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In 2021, Chris Rathermel was ready for a change. He had spent years selling a web and smartphone application geared at improving health systems’ paging processes. He helped organizations ensure data security and stability through product updates. He also had produced a wide range of tech and process improvements for the likes of Kroll, Baker Tilly, and Charter Communications.
But after bouncing between analytical, technical, operator, and leadership roles, while running his own healthcare communication company, Rathermel wanted to take his commitment to improving lives through IT a step further. And to do that, he needed to sit where some of his healthcare clients did.
“I needed to do their jobs to understand the industry more, how they manage budgets, how they focus on patient experience, and I needed to learn more about clinical workflow. You can’t read a book on a lot of that,” he says. “I knew healthcare tech was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I couldn’t just continue to build products for folks that I barely understood.” He wanted to walk in their shoes.
That’s what brought him to Spero Health, an integrated healthcare services organization specializing in local affordable outpatient care for those suffering from substance use disorders. The national leader has helped more than thirty thousand patients on their journey to recovery from addiction and operates more than eighty outpatient clinics throughout Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
In his role as vice president of technology and security officer, Rathermel oversees all technology and support, applications, infrastructure, and more for each location. He saw an opportunity immediately upon joining to transform the IT department in ways that would allow it to better support the other business units.
“When I started, we had around fifty clinics at the time, and we’ve nearly doubled since then. And through that time, the organization was going through breakneck growth and saw a lot of firefighting in the IT department,” he explains. “Support issues were a game of Whac-A-Mole, not root cause-solving. My team was very burnt out, and there wasn’t great response time or great management of it. I came in wanting to help that department scale, to carve out those time-wasting activities to open up opportunity, and to focus on team development.”
Rathermel not only worked to put the right people in the right positions but also brought a strong level of coaching to the department. He hasn’t been afraid to solve difficult problems with his team and to stand on the front lines with them. But at the same time, he empowers them to take responsibility over certain verticals and gives them the spotlight and recognition they deserve.
He also worked to instill what he calls a sense of “blameless problem-solving” in the department.
“We might’ve launched this or that solution but retrospectively, we may realize it didn’t work,” he says. “If we’re not blaming each other and are only focused on tackling a problem, it’s easier to detach from it and not be like, ‘Oh, I’m the problem’ or ‘It’s that teammate’s fault.’ It’s just stepping back, and we do that regularly, and the combination of that approach and our culture has really helped us.”
Those things have allowed Rathermel and his team to improve the way they serve the organization and its patients. Recently, the team implemented a mobile application to help increase patient support, connection, and retention. The app aims to “allow patients to feel connected in-between appointments,” Rathermel says.
“When it comes to substance abuse recovery, it’s a bumpy road, especially when you add the element of an outpatient setting. Patients might come in for an hour a week but are expected to be enriched to that hour and to be OK on their recovery journey. That’s a tough ask,” he says. “The app gives them an outlet to ask questions, to be reminded about appointment, and to reschedule if they need to. The message we wanted to send is that, ‘We’re here for you.’”
That’s not the only solution the team has worked on with the patient’s recovery journey in mind. Providers often want to do urine drug screen analysis to make sure they are taking the medications they’re prescribed. To update and simplify that function, Rathermel’s team helped make the switch from an out-of-date system to a more modern, cloud-hosted one, Clinisys Laboratory Solutions. It gives a lot of workflow options they didn’t have before to improve areas of compliance, specimen integrity, and signature workflows.
“With Clinisys Laboratory Solutions—the next evolution of laboratory informatics—we are giving laboratories what they need to stay competitive, to carry out their testing with the highest levels of quality and confidence, and to get data wherever it needs to go,” says Michael Simpson, CEO of Clinisys.
To Rathermel, these strides are part of a broader focus on the patient experience, and he’s excited to continue to make progress in that space in other ways.
“You can never waste time at a company improving the patient experience. We’re taking that Jeff Bezos approach of relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction and improvement,” he explains. “The other verticals are just efficiency gains, and it’s critical for IT to be aware of that [with] our mission. If you’re not engaged at that level, you likely won’t get the right impact or alignment with the business.”
Clinisys is a global laboratory information management system (LIMS) solution provider, with expertise to support testing across healthcare, life sciences, public health and safety. Millions of laboratory results and data insights are generated every day using Clinisys’ platform and cloud-based solutions in over 3,500 laboratories across 34 countries. Clinisys’ mission is to help make citizens and communities healthier and safer around the world. We are proud to partner with Spero Health, providing them with a LIMS that supports this integrated healthcare services organization monitor outpatient addiction treatments and recovery.