From EHR support to health system CIO — Southcoast Health Jim Feen's best advice for EHR adoption

Clinicians are constantly thinking and operating in a "process improvement mode," New Bedford, Mass-based Southcoast Health CIO Jim Feen says, making his role challenging and at the same time always exciting. 

The challenge comes with keeping clinicians' expectations and pace about technology realistic while also adopting and implementing digital solutions that support providers. However, Mr. Feen says these expectations and the desire clinicians have to adopt technology is what makes being a CIO so fulfilling. 

"Clinicians are always seeking ease of use and a better user experience. Coming out of the age of meaningful use and the mandate for more data, more clicks, more input, I think we owe our care providers much greater time and energy spent on how to go through and, quite frankly, make things easier for them to enhance focus on the patient," Mr. Feen told Becker's Hospital Review in a Jan. 15 interview. 

When it comes to talking about clicks and ease of use, many people turn their attention to EHR systems, which are notorious for being a cause of clinician burnout and stress. While EHRs didn't make waves in the healthcare technology sector until the 2010s, the systems don't always have the best reputation. 

Mr. Feen has a unique background that could help clinicians with the frustrations they have with EHRs. A former Meditech employee, Mr. Feen was integral in the adoption and implementation of EHRs at surgery centers across the country. Mr. Feen spent 10 years at Meditech and has witnessed an EHR transformation with his own eyes. While EHRs may still need improvements, Mr. Feen reminds healthcare leaders that what can't go unnoted is the tremendous impact they have on the healthcare industry today. 

After working at Meditech, Mr. Feen took his technology background to Southcoast Health. For the past 11 years, Mr. Feen has led various initiatives at Southcoast Health, including supporting the health system's Epic EHR. 

Below, Mr. Feen looks back on his career and discusses how technology has evolved during that time. Additionally, he explains the transition he made from working at a technology company and then a health system and why others may be doing the opposite. 

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

Question: Throughout your career, what has been the most monumental/significant technical or digital transformation you've experienced? 

Jim Feen: The transformation of the EHR from general data input and department organization into what it is today, which is a tool that allows providers to make real-time clinical decisions. Back in the 90s, you didn't grasp how the data was really going to make a difference. Today, this data can be used to proactively manage populations of the future. I don't think we always grasp the intentions of these systems, such as an EHR, back when they were initially developed. But looking back on what the EHR has evolved into, there have been monumental shifts in the value of data.

Q: Looking into the next decade, do you have any predictions for how EHRs will evolve? Will it be little tweaks or big overhauls that make the most difference? 

JF: I think it's both. By nature, the EHR is a continuous process improvement sport. But I think we are going to be less reliant on the transactional data of the health system and provider than we will be of other EHR inputs. For example, as we look at the role of genetics, additional data sets can really impact real-time decision support that a provider has at their fingertips. While we continue to be very focused on the data we have, it's the amount of data that exists outside our walls that I think will have the biggest impact on care delivery.

Q: With your experience working at Meditech, what is one thing surgery centers should know during an EHR implementation? 

JF: The No. 1 thing is that it's always about keeping the patient top of mind. That has been a guiding principle at Southcoast Health. I think the open mind that needs to go with the intelligent design of these large-scale projects makes a significant difference. This helps prevent some unintended consequences that could take away from the patient and provider experience.

By focusing on the patient, this can lead to positive financial impacts the around quality improvements and efficiency improvements that lower cost. This gets at the heart of why organizations choose to take on these large and costly projects. The patient care elements don't always take the priority that they should have in decision making but can have large impacts.

Q: You had a career at Meditech before joining Southcoast Health. What motivated you to make the switch? And why do you speculate leaders at health systems are making the jump to work for tech companies?

JK: As rewarding as it was to travel across the country working with different health systems, it was also limited in seeing the full life cycle of the work, down to the impact of the patient. That was something that I wanted to experience and influence more directly. Southcoast Health was in my backyard, and they had the need for someone with my skill set 11 years ago. Throughout my roles at Southcoast Health, I have been able to get better visibility into the impact technology has on our patients, the good and the things we need to learn from, as well as impacts to care delivery.

It's probably for a lot of the same reasons that employees working in hospitals make the jump to tech companies. Big tech firms are playing a larger role in wider cultural transformation and digital experience in the healthcare space. I can only imagine that this transition is filled with a lot of bright people who are making the transition because they want to make a difference for the very same reasons. Of course, at a different level, the pervasiveness and impact that these companies are having, you can see why it's so exciting and the potential that exists for people to really have an impact on improving health and the human experience as technology allows for us to get more directly involved with our own care.

Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 21. 

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