How Denver Health is improving patient experience with the help of an executive touch, CIO Jeffrey Pelot explains

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Being a CIO is more than just integrating new technology into a hospital. It also requires building relationships with clinicians and patients to improve experiences and workflows.

At the front of it all, the patient remains at the center of everything a CIO does. This is true for Jeffrey Pelot, CIO of Denver Health. At Denver Health, Mr. Pelot is spearheading various initiatives to improve the patient experience and clinical care.

Below Mr. Pelot details these initiatives and discusses how his career as CIO has evolved.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Q: What are you doing at your hospital to improve the patient experience and outcomes?

Jeffrey Pelot: When you look at our strategic model, the patient is at the center of everything we do. In terms of patient experience on the inpatient side, we are using predictive analytics to see if we can provide a better experience that in turn would result in a higher satisfaction rating. We have a small data science team that has developed algorithms that can indicate reliably which patients would be most likely swayed to improve their rating of the hospital if they were visited by an executive. 

Through the algorithms, we look daily at every person who is in an inpatient bed and come up with a list of patients who would respond positively to a personal touch. This list is then given to our senior executive staff who make rounds to patients almost daily. This has improved our in-patient satisfaction ratings, where so many efforts in the past have not been able to move the needle. 

Additionally, we have an initiative around our patient portal to make it as useful as possible, with a focus of making it available on mobile devices. This includes making it user-friendly for patients to schedule appointments, communicate with their provider and to give them access for prescription refills. 

Q: In terms of quality? 

JP: In terms of quality and outcomes, Denver Health has a full key performance indicator dashboard that helps drive how and what we do to make improvements; one of these is the target zero initiative, which targets events that we don't ever want to happen to patients. Staff measure these events and our related protocols to ensure that the work we are doing reduces target zero events, such as infections, falls, MRSA, sepsis, deterioration, etc. 

Additionally, we have an ongoing project that seeks to centralize all patient contact within Denver Health. This centralized contact center, known as Connect to Care, allows patients to call to get access to a nurse line for advice; to gather information they may need to make appointments or to sign up for the patient portal; and a whole lot more. 

Denver Health is also making large improvements to our campus. Next year, our hospital will be 160 years old, and as you can imagine our campus has changed a lot over time. Through that time, the main campus has become disjointed in terms of wayfinding, access to services etc. To address this, we are investing in a new outpatient medical center that centralizes most outpatient care needs into one beautiful centralized location, and it opens mid next year. 

Q: Looking back at your first year as CIO, what would you do differently? 

JP: Six years ago, when I took over this job, our approach to governance was different than today; at that time, we were implementing an Epic EHR, and governance transitioned into an Epic project oversight committee. Because of this, we minimalized the need for governance over other IT and operations initiatives. Looking back, I would have redesigned governance to provide oversight for all work. This has since been rectified, and governance is in an on-going evolutionary process that changes with changing needs. 

What I wouldn’t change from when I first came into the role is a focus on system reliability, availability and sustainability. In my first year as CIO we were having regular outages, so I started an effort to fix the problem. Although it took a significant amount of time, we were able to identify the problem points and come up with solutions to drive us to a more stable system. The primary finding through this effort was that risk management was not being handled as well as it should have been, too many of our analysts and technicians were willing to take risk just to get through the work they had in front of them. With better discipline in risk and change management, we now have a highly reliable information system. 

The methodologies we used for this effort were derived from two books, The Four Disciplines of Execution, a Franklin Covey book, and The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim. These books provided insight to capacity management, and it was through these books that we learned that we don’t have a “work overload” problem, but rather a capacity problem that could be dealt with through good prioritization efforts, leading to a focused approach on solving problems.

Q: What do you wish you had known? 

JP: Prior to becoming CIO, I served as the chief technology officer of Denver Health, and I thought I knew about all there was to know about how we function as a highly integrated healthcare delivery system.  I woefully underestimated the complexity of Denver Health and find myself in a constant learning mode.

Q: Who do you go for advice?

JP: I go to my boss, our COO, for most work-related advice. He is a wonderful mentor who is quite savvy when it comes to the machinations of this complex organization. I also have a strong network of CIOs that I can go to for advice. We have an informal organization of many of the state hospital CIOs that make themselves available for questions and learnings from their experiences, and we meet on a quarterly basis to share and exchange information. It’s truly a great benefit to me. Many of the challenges I am facing aren't earth shattering, but it's nice to bounce ideas off others who are in similar situations to me. 

Then of course, I turn to my wife for advice; there are those times when I am thinking out loud where she provides a sounding board for me. I’ve found the more I can talk through problems the better I am at solving them. 

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