HIMSS Keynote: Ochsner Health System CEO Says CIOs Must Proactively Solve Problems

April 10, 2013
Ochsner Health System CEO Warner Thomas said that like the city, his organization looks much different now than it did before Katrina. And health IT is a big part of the change.

Leading off HIMSS 13 in New Orleans on Monday, March 4, attendees got a warm welcome from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a keynote address from the president and CEO of Louisiana’s largest health system, Warner Thomas, who leads eight-hospital Ochsner Health System.

Before introducing Thomas, HIMSS Board Chair Willa Fields, a professor in the Graduate Nursing Leadership in Health Systems concentration at San Diego State University, highlighted the work of this year’s Davies Award winners and how they improve the quality, safety, access and cost-effectiveness of care. 

“We are demonstrating that our mission of improving care is not only possible but to be expected,” she said. “I know there is still a lot of skepticism about whether health IT can reign in costs,” she added. “We need more objective data on increasing cost effectiveness of healthcare, but I am confident we will make that case, too.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu talked about how part of the City of New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina is a new approach to community health care with a focus on neighborhood clinics focused on prevention and driven by health IT. “One of the great challenges you have as we struggle to handle healthcare to bend the cost curve,” Landrieu told the audience. “one of the things that is defying gravity is the cost of medical care. You have to help bend it back to something that is sustainable over time. One of our missions here in New Orleans is to be a laboratory for change.”

Ochsner’s Thomas said that like the city, his organization looks much different now than it did before Katrina. It has acquired several more hospitals. He mentioned some IT progress: Ochsner is 70 percent of the way through a system-wide conversion from a homegrown system to Epic Systems software. It has reached HIMSS Analytics Level 6 and 100 percent of its physicians have met meaningful use Stage 1, he said.

After describing some of the financial challenges the healthcare industry faces from rising costs and declining reimbursements, Thomas said healthcare executives can either be depressed about it or energized and optimistic. “Has there ever been a better time to be in healthcare?” he asked “We are going to set the stage for next 10 to 20 years in just the next two or three. It is exciting.”

Industries can change quickly, he noted, and described how airlines and banking have remade themselves. Companies in other industries, such as Walmart and Amazon, use the data they have to help us better understand customers and improve their experience. Healthcare needs to do that, too, Thomas added.

Health IT leaders, he noted, have to keep their focus on better, safer patient experiences. Ask yourself, he said, if you are helping your providers optimize and be proactive about how IT can help solve organizational problems. Vendors also have to be willing to be partners to drive value and improve productivity and efficiency, he said in closing.

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