One-on-One with Memorial University Medical Center CIO Patty Lavely, Part I

June 24, 2011
Patty Lavely is senior vice president and CIO at Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC), a 530-bed academic medical center that serves a 35-county

Patty Lavely is senior vice president and CIO at Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC), a 530-bed academic medical center that serves a 35-county area in southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina. The Savannah, Ga.-based facility includes the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute, the Heart and Vascular Institute, the George and Marie Backus Children’s Hospital and the Women’s Health Institute. This past fall, Lavely was named CIO of the Year by the Georgia CIO Leadership Association. The award recognizes excellence among C-level executives in the IT/IS space, honoring those who have shown excellence in managing enterprise-wide information systems in Georgia. Recently, HCI Associate Editor Kate Gamble had a chance to speak with Lavely about her achievement as well as her plans for MUMC.

KG: You were hired as CIO at MUMC in 2006, and before that you were CIO at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Ga., and PROMINA Health System in Atlanta. What was your background prior to that?

PL: My experience is really on the IT side. I’ve been in healthcare IT for about 17 years. I did spend a few years in operations and finance, but I moved into healthcare IT and actually at the same time was still in operations and eventually went full-time in healthcare IT.

I think I have the best job, most days.

KG: Congratulations on being named CIO of the year by the Georgia CIO Leadership Association. That’s a really nice honor. What was your reaction when you found out?

PL: When I was first named a finalist, I didn’t think it really meant anything. And then as finalists, we were invited to a reception at the Atlanta headquarters of Porsche, Inc. Once I realized the caliber of organizations that were included in the finalists group, I knew it was a big deal. We were told we needed to prepare an acceptance speech, and that’s when I started getting a little nervous about it. But I had no idea I won until we were sitting in the room with 600 people and the winners were announced. And I was really quite shocked because I was the only healthcare provider in the room. There were four categories; my award was for the public sector category. However, we had organizations like UPS and McKesson there. I was a finalist with some pretty significant state agencies, as well as a school district that has a population of over a million in its county. I thought, ‘I’m not going to win, we’re just a little hospital in Savannah’. So I was really quite surprised.

KG: It’s pretty amazing, considering the award reached across so many other verticals. What was the nomination process like?

PL: Once I was nominated, I had to fill out an application, which was fairly brief. They had us do a 30 minute video-taped interview. The application, interview and information about our organizations were provided to the judges.

KG: I think the fact that you won as a hospital CIO really speaks to how much health IT is growing and earning recognition as an industry.

PL: I think so. This particular award is in its tenth year, and I was just the second hospital CIO who has won it over 10 years. The other was Rick Schooler, who you may have talked to, when he was at Medical Center of Central Georgia, which was about five years ago. This year they actually did four awards — they initially had just one but they’ve since added different categories to sort of expand it. But there have still been quite a number of recipients and only two healthcare provider CIOs, let alone hospitals. So it’s nice that we are getting recognized.

KG: What do you think it was that made your organization stand out?

PL: It’s hard to tell, but from looking at others in the group, I think that with healthcare IT, we’re so involved in the business of the organization, the clinical process and business process, and we extend out into our communities. We’re reaching out to our physician practices — our strategic partners and our employed physicians — and we’re connecting even to our competitors in Savannah to make medical records available to those that are taking care of the patients. And we have a pretty significant community HIE effort going on as well. So I think that even though Memorial is a community hospital, our scope is much broader than some other industry CIOs that tend to stay within their company.

KG: The fact that you’re connecting with other hospitals, and especially your competitors, is a great example of forward thinking and putting the needs of patients first. I know that many of CIOs we talk to are pushing programs like that. The benefits to information sharing are obvious — but what are some of the hurdles?

PL: I hate to say it, but the hurdles are often leadership. When you have a CEO that is working on strategies to increase market share, the last thing he/she wants is a competing organization to have access to patient data on the network. It makes sense that a CEO would think that way. We really had to do a lot of work in our community to get through those barriers; and actually, the reason we were able to do it is because the board of directors from our major healthcare organizations formed a joint task force. The Board Task Force was able to determine how we could work together as competitors for the greater good of the community.

KG: Who is the competing organization?

PL: St. Joseph Candler Health System, also in Savannah. We have three Emergency Departments (EDs) in our city, and all of the emergency medicine physicians have access to the medical records at all three EDs. We’re in the process of connecting the breast surgeons to share digital mammography.

KG: MUMC is a stage six hospital, correct?

PL: Yes. We achieved Stage Six of the EMR Staging Model in 2007.

KG: Would you characterize Memorial University as a fairly cutting edge organization?

PL: I would, yes. We have a lot of work to do as far as housewide deployment, but we are cutting edge. Our leadership has been very supportive. We still have the challenges of adoption and other hurdles like everyone else, but if I can get a pilot group willing to test new technology, I can usually get the support of leadership to do that.

KG: That’s extremely important, I’m sure. When you talk about leadership, are you referring primarily to the other C-suite level executives, or physician or IT leaders?

PL: I would say the C-suite and clinician leaders. And I have to tell you, the clinician leaders are the easiest ones. They’re usually ready to try anything that will help them deliver better patient care. It helps quite a bit having that kind of environment.

KG: I can imagine that as a CIO, it’s critical having clinicians who are on board with change. As far as your information systems, are you involved in any major projects or upgrades right now?

PL: We are. Probably the most important project we have going on right now is we are in the midst of moving of our critical core systems to a remote hosting arrangement. We’re actually moving them offsite and we’re doing that with McKesson, who is our primary application vendor. And as soon as we finish that, we’ll be resuming the implementation of AdminRx, which is bedside medication administration. We have a pilot up now and then we’re going to roll it out housewide when we finish the remote hosting. And we have a CPOE implementation underway. It’s a little slow right now. We have six units up right now and we’re going to change our implementation strategy. So we’re in the midst of doing that and then we’ll resume that probably in the first quarter of 2009. Our nursing documentation system (of 10 years) is going through a major upgrade while optimizing our documentation processes. In addition, we have an ambulatory EMR initiative underway that includes a replacement to our practice management system. We are implementing e-prescribing with Relay Health on the ambulatory side and have pretty active personal health records with our patient base using Relay Health. We had a very good response from our patients and that deployment is nearing its completion with our employed physicians and the next step is to bring in some of our strategic partners in community, because as our patients set up their personal health records, they can also connect with physicians to communicate about their care securely electronically. So that project is well underway and will continue throughout the next six months.

KG: What was the impetus for moving the critical systems to remote hosting?

Part II Coming Soon

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