Health IT partnership strategy for a critical access hospital – Key thoughts from CIO Nickie Leeper

Laura Dyrda (Twitter) - Print  | 

Nickie Leeper is the CIO of Jennie M. Melham Memorial Medical Center in Broken Bow, Neb.


Here, she discusses the unique challenges and opportunities for the 23-bed critical access hospital related to cybersecurity, technology implementation and partnerships.

Question: Who are the most crucial partners for your hospital or health system's IT department today?

Nickie Leeper: I feel internally it is our end users. They are at the front line of security for us. We have a cybersecurity awareness program we are formally implementing that will help with training our staff to be cyber-aware. Our end users also know how our systems are responding and what issues we are experiencing. While they are aware that not everything can be fixed, we do communicate with them on their concerns which has helped in our collaboration efforts with these departments.

I feel externally, security experts and businesses with hired expertise are crucial partners. We spend time upfront vetting a third party that is going to be a right fit with our culture. We are a small critical access hospital and have a small IT staff. It is hard to have all the expertise with technology changing so quickly. Utilizing a great third party or parties to help in these areas is crucial in keeping up with implementing new technology. Our third parties have the expertise we can tap into and have them train us on maintaining and supporting systems.

I also think it goes without saying that our patients are our partners too. We continue to look for ways we can increase our services to provide quality care for them. We have a variety of specialists that come from all over Nebraska so our patients can be seen locally. We also have a patient and family advisory council that work with us on creating better patient experiences by looking at our processes.
Q: In the future, what types of partnerships and relationships do you foresee investing the most time and resources in?

NL: This really is led by our strategic plan and the direction we are heading with our facility. The trend will most likely be in security and automation of processes. These are two areas we cannot ignore if we want to continue evolving with healthcare needs.

Another area I see concern over is working with vendors on upgrading legacy systems. The cost of doing this on a regular basis is expensive and a new process needs to be created for these vendors to stay on top of expiring operating systems. Purchasing a new CT scanner or DEXA machine is not feasible every time an operating system becomes outdated.

On the other spectrum, bringing in new services and partnering with these companies is a growing trend for rural hospitals. Being able to offer services in our area, like telemedicine or behavioral health, benefits our patients and eliminates the need for them to travel great distances to see these specialists. This creates a patient centric opportunity for us and we will continue to develop these types of opportunities.

Q: How do you see your role as a CIO changing in the next one to five years?

NL: Working in a rural area, I feel my role will be to continue to create a balance with value-based care and value-based technology. This is not only with our employees and patients but the community as a whole. There is not a one size fits all model in technology and it is important to keep that in mind as we procure and implement technology. We do not want to just get new technology because everyone else is getting it; we want to make sure it really offers a solution to help us create better patient care.

I also feel my role will continue to play a part of being a strategist, innovator, and change driver for my facility. The ability to help solve business problems is a motivating factor behind increasing my soft skills and focusing on leadership abilities.

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