5 questions with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital CIO Keith Perry

Keith Perry, CIO of Memphis-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, has worked in the oncology sector for almost 20 years.

After earning a bachelor's degree in computer science from Searcy, Ark.-based Harding University, he found a job as a systems analyst for a Houston-based oil company. However, he soon entered the healthcare industry, working in the information services division of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Perry served in numerous IT positions at The Woodlands, Texas-based The US Oncology Network and Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center, which culminated in his decision to join St. Jude as its CIO in August 2015. The 78-bed cancer hospital — which sees roughly 7,800 patients each year, most of whom are treated on a continuing outpatient basis — operates with daily costs of $2 million, primarily covered by individual donations.

Mr. Perry spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about the important role mHealth and patient engagement strategies play in comprehensive oncology care.

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

Question: I see you've worked with a few oncology organizations. How did that come to be?

Keith Perry: I wish could say it was all planning, but what I've found is your career is a journey, where each step either opens or shuts doors. I'm blessed to have been within the oncology space, and as I reflected upon that during my time at US Oncology and MD Anderson, it really struck a chord with me. I never had the opportunity to meet one of my grandmothers, and I only had my other grandmother with me for nine years of my life, because both were taken by cancer. How do we, as a society, deal with and research this terrible disease? That drove me to make [oncology] where I invested my career. That's what has motivated me.

Q: How has the IT landscape changed for hospitals since you began working in healthcare in the 1990s?

KP: IT is often thought of as running the back-end processes — whether that be financial systems, payroll systems or the network — but I've observed and taken part in the transition that's moved IT from the back office to a more strategic imperative. When we look at the discoveries we're observing in medicine today, I can't think of a single thing that's not pointing back to some type of technology advancement. All of this has some technology slant. We're living in that transition, and we're seeing a broad change in how technology is applied.

Q: In terms of research and medical discovery, what IT efforts has St. Jude been working on this year?

KP: We're in the process of creating what we're calling a "St. Jude cloud." One of the challenges within the academic and research community is moving these really large datasets around, and deciding what to do with all the sequencing, imaging and other data that's generated. Our thought is, rather than spending 10 to 20 percent of our time moving data, what if we brought the community to the data through the cloud? What if we allowed these researchers to focus on their research, rather than how to move the data from place to place? We're trying to create this sharing community to speed that process up a bit.

Q: Looking toward the next year, what are some of your goals for St. Jude?

KP: We're taking a step back and really focusing on the patient experience. That's a pretty broad topic in the industry today, and we want to look at it holistically. In our model at St. Jude, we pay for a family to fly to Memphis, we pick them up at the airport, we bring them to our housing facilities and we put them up from a day to upwards of two years during treatment. We also get them back home with the medications and follow-up they need.

Part of our effort on patient experience is communicating with them and engaging with them, asking: How do we reach out before they even get here? How do we start to share logistical information? How do we integrate that within their clinical experience, and their stay at our housing facilities? We're in the process of developing a mobile app, where we're trying to give them a more concierge-type service, even before they arrive on campus.

Q: As a CIO, what are some health IT trends you want to learn more about?

KP: I would say mobile health and innovation. That's something we're going to be ramping up next year — adding an innovation team to start integrating some of the great things coming out of the markets, like mobile health and wearables.

More articles on health IT:
6 questions with UCLA Health CIO Dr. Michael Pfeffer
Why Sanford Health is sharing patient data with its academic neighbors
5 things data scientists want hospital leaders to know

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