5 thoughts with community hospital CIO Denni McColm

For Denni McColm, when you work at a small, rural hospital, you help out where needed. That could include running the human resources department, directing finances, managing technology — or possibly all three.

Since joining Bolivar, Mo.-based Citizens Memorial Healthcare in 1988 as director of human resources, Ms. McColm helped CMH grow from 250 employees to nearly 2,000. In 1991, she transitioned to director of finance, then to the CIO role in 2003, where she oversaw the health system's EHR upgrade.

Clearly, CMH isn't such a small hospital anymore. It boasts a federally qualified health care center, 32 primary care and specialty care clinics, and seven long-term care facilities, in addition to its 86-bed hospital.

"In our organization, we have such a nice balance where we are all at the table when we need to be," says Ms. McColm, who still holds the CIO role at CMH. "We like to say that were on the team that saves lives."

In August, Ms. McColm was one of 25 experts the Government Accountability Office appointed to the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee, which was established under the 21st Century Cures Act to provide policy recommendations to the ONC.

She also serves on the American Hospital Association Health IT Network, the AHA Interoperability Advisory Group and the Missouri Hospital Association Hospital Industry Data Institute Strategic Advisory Committee. Ms. McColm is also a member on the National Advisory Board for the Health Record Bank Alliance, in addition to the Medical Users Software Exchange Leadership Committee.

Here Ms. McColm talks with Becker's Hospital Review about her thoughts on the value of serving on health IT councils, the industry's steps toward interoperability and the importance of sharing patient data.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: How does serving on so many health-focused organizations inform your role as CIO?

Denni McColm: I hope that by serving on the committees, like the AHA Advisory Committee and the Missouri Hospital Advisory Committee, I'm going to be able to represent community hospitals and rural hospitals — even critical access hospitals — and what it takes to operationalize the ideas everyone may have at the broader level. But, it also benefits our organization for me to have inside knowledge — knowing what's going on and getting a feel for the direction and the mood of the regulatory bodies guiding us.

Q: What are some of your goals for the Health IT Advisory Committee?

DM: I'm anxious to see how they will utilize our expertise. I know there are a lot of initiatives at ONC directed toward advancing and requiring hospitals to show progress toward interoperability, so I'm assuming a big part of what we do will be to advise them on ways to achieve success with interoperability.

Q: What are your thoughts on interoperability?

DM: With interoperability, there is a false sense that hospitals and healthcare providers are information blocking, or rather, we're some how reluctant to participate in interoperability. What people don't quite understand is we're not avoiding participating in interoperability because there's no value proposition — its that the technology and standards aren't quite up to speed yet.

Q: CMH has a pretty intricate patient portal. What is the inspiration behind that?

DM:  We have a pretty strong patient engagement outreach — we implemented our patient portal in 2009, way before it was required. We always made physician progress notes available on the portal so the patient could see as much information as we could possibly share with them. And, we share all labs and most reports, all the way back to the time we implemented our system — so we have a pretty robust patient portal. I really attribute that to us being willing to share rich information and making it meaningful for the patients. 

Q: What health trends are you most excited about?

DM: I'm excited to see other hospitals starting to move toward a more integrated approach, where hospitals are getting on board with, 'Yeah, we all do need to be on the same systems.' That means fewer islands of information have to be connected to make interoperability work.

More articles on health IT: 

SMBs: Less than 1 in 3 ransomware attacks reported to authorities

ONC updates certification program to relieve burden, allow health IT provides to prepare for QPP

Missouri hospital to roll out Epic EMR upgrade Oct. 1

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