Life of a healthcare CIO: UnityPoint Health's Joy Grosser

In collaboration with CHIME, Becker's Hospital Review's "Life of a Healthcare CIO" series features leading hospital and health system CIOs from across the country who are sharing their experiences, best practices and challenges. 

To recommend a CIO to be featured in this series, please contact Akanksha Jayanthi (

An interview with Joy Grosser, vice president and CIO of West Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health.

(Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity).

Question: You have been in health IT for nearly 23 years, holding positions at Health Midwest, Loyola University Health System, UC Irvine and now UnityPoint Health. How have you seen the industry change over that time?

joy grosserJoy Grosser: During my career, I’ve seen health IT move from a department in a back room that nobody went to unless forced, to emerge as a strategic and innovative division that connects healthcare across the continuum. The industry has moved from a focus on billing, then becoming more patient and provider focused, to now enabling population health strategies. In fact, IT now brings the ability to enable strategies and work in partnership with our clinicians and others to move our agenda forward faster. It has moved from that backdoor function to a seat at the strategy table.

Q: What are some of the initiatives you're working on right now?

JG: I came here almost six years ago, and we had a lot of foundational issues that we needed to take care of.  Because the manner in which our organization grew, we had duplicative systems that did not work together.  Our task was to develop a more standard approach that was more responsive to clinical needs and also be more efficient for the organization. We embarked on changes to our EHR, our enterprise resource planning (ERP) and our medical imaging platform. Viewing those all as foundational activity got us to the starting line of being able to move toward clinical and patient-centric solutions. We were able to do that by developing a formalized governance structure. We lovingly referred to it as "Governance 1.0" which later evolved to "Governance 2.0" and continues to evolve.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you're currently facing?

JG: You just can't move quickly enough. UnityPoint Health has a significant presence in the accountable care organization market requiring patient-level communication from both employed and independent providers.  The biggest challenge is the lack of interoperability caused by an industry that does not have data standards.  We are trying to get data faster so that we can both make it more actionable on the front end, as well as using it for predictive modeling for the population. You can't mandate that all healthcare organizations utilize the same systems, yet our patients need clinical information to flow from provider to provider. As an industry, we need to work together to regulate data standards.

Q: With all these new implementations at UnityPoint Health, what are some key challenges and lessons you've learned from going through numerous system adoptions?

JG: There are always those things that you do right, and afterward you think, "That was a good one." My background isn't technology; I was in healthcare operations before IT. The IT department does not provide patient care, so why would we design and implement it in a vacuum without engaging users. When we decided to implement a standardized EHR across UnityPoint Health, one key was to get commitment from across all of our regions and divisions.  This allowed us to pull the best and the brightest clinical staff across the organization from their current responsibilities for a period of time, and not just work on the project from the corner of their desk. Our organization fully committed itself to these projects and fulfilled that promise. We had phenomenal business leaders who really focused on what solutions we were trying to accomplish, not just what steps were we trying to take in the implantation of a system.

We've grown as a system; we’ve doubled in size during the implementation process, so if I could go back again, I'd focus more time on those new partners that were not part of the system during the design process.  The new system was not something they chose, so we should have taken more time to allow them to understand the value of the system-wide approach.

Q: What is your favorite part about this industry?

JG: There are a million things that get me up every morning and make me excited to face new opportunities. In many ways, IT is an integral component in the healthcare sector and allows us to drive to solutions quicker. We think outside of the box and challenge traditional ways of thought, and look at things through both the patient and physician perspectives. I love the fact that we are moving into the consumer model, engaging with our communities and letting healthcare meet people where they are. I think about when my child was diagnosed with asthma at a young age.  There was some information to be found on the internet, but primarily, the physician provided information to the parents. Now we have video games for asthmatic children to help them understand when it is the appropriate time to use their inhaler. They can then earn points if they do all the right things. That helps a child become more independent and compliant. We need to position healthcare to meet people where they are, whether they're facing multiple chronic illnesses, if there's a certain surgery they're getting ready to go through or whether they're a young, healthy 20-year-old professional who wants to know if it's healthier to eat more greens or fruit in their diet. It's exciting to watch healthcare utilize mainstream technology to get into the consumer space.  

Q: What is one lesson you've learned you'd like to share with other CIOs?

JG: This is a marathon not a sprint. There will be times that we will take a misstep thinking that we were going in the right direction when we weren't.  But because it's a marathon you can get back on track pretty quickly. The way you would train for that marathon and ensure success is to make sure you're surrounding yourself with the right team. I'm blessed to be a CIO, but I'm more blessed that I we have incredible teams within my own division, with my peers across the system and within our executive team.  They all understand that no one pillar of healthcare takes care of everything - they all need to work together. As we prepare for the future, make sure that you're surrounding yourself with the best and the brightest. Make sure you're helping your industry thrive. Today there's a portion of that marathon you're training for and running, and tomorrow is a new one. You need the stamina to keep going, but at the end of the day what keeps us going is knowing we make a difference in the lives of the people we serve. 

More articles from the Life of a Healthcare CIO series:

Life of a healthcare CIO: Walnut Hill Medical Center's Aaron Miri
Life of a healthcare CIO: Legacy Health's Dr. John Kenagy
Life of a heatlhcare CIO: St. Peter's Healthcare System's Frank DiSanzo

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