The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Mercy's Gil Hoffman

In collaboration with CHIMEBecker'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 Helen Gregg (hgregg@beckershealthcare.com).

An interview with Gil Hoffman, vice president and CIO of Mercy, based in Chesterfield, Mo. (Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: You've been CIO of Mercy since November 2012. How has your job changed since you began? 

Gil Hoffman: First of all, I didn't come from healthcare so everything was a change. And more than what's been changing [at Mercy] for me, it's the organization that has changed, and the IT organization has changed dramatically. There's a lot more collaboration, we're a lot closer to the business users than we have been in the past. There's also a lot better communication with the users, and there seems to be more trust.Hoffman Gilbert-0076 640x427

The other thing is, we're now serving more people with the commercial launch. [Editor's note: Earlier this month, Mercy announced it would begin offering Epic implementation, application management, hosting and consulting services to other organizations as part of the Epic Connect program.] It's not only our co-workers now — now other hospitals are our customers as well. In just the 17 months I've been here, that's a dramatic change for an organization.

Q: How does being a healthcare CIO compare with your previous position as CIO of Maritz [a provider of employee research and motivation solutions]?

GH: In some ways it's the same, and in some ways it couldn't be more different. When I first came to the organization, I thought I needed to learn as much as I could about healthcare and understand it completely. It was overwhelming.

What I found was I just needed to focus on the technical problems of healthcare, and understand the technical issues physicians, nurses and leadership were having. That was old hat for me, and I understood those problems relatively quickly. I realized I didn't need to understand what it was like to be a cardiologist or a radiologist to understand their technical frustrations or concerns. A lot of the basic IT issues, you see in all industries.

Q: In your time with Mercy, what has been your biggest accomplishment? 

GH: I would have to say there have been several things. We recently developed an intensive strategic plan detailing who we are as an organization and what our mission, vision and goals are as the IT department. It was a collaborative process with leadership, and what was different than in the past was we included all the business leaders in the discussion, finding out what they want and what they need us to be, to make this a strong, living document.

On top of that, we made an IT governance strategy that covers all areas of the ministry. Previously, one of our biggest issues was there was so much work and no good way to prioritize projects [across the organization] that deliver the greatest value. This accomplishes that.

Finally, the commercialization. In 17 months we've launched a new business organization to provide Epic support to other organizations that struggle with it. It's a new revenue channel for the ministry and has helped us be better stewards of our resources.

Q: What do you see as your biggest misstep or mistake?

GH: What I said before — Coming out of the gate in my first 90 days here, I spent a lot of time worrying about understanding every healthcare issue. I thought I needed to be a healthcare expert in a very short period of time. I really just needed to understand the technical issues, and I was able to relate to those quickly from my 39 years with Maritz.

Q: In the past month or so, what project or challenge has taken up the majority of your time?

GH: We've got a lot of moving parts in our organization. We've had some acquisitions so there's been a lot of due diligence there. There's been divestiture [Editor's note: On April 1, Mercy announced Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives would acquire Mercy Hospital Hot Springs (Ark.)], but we've continued to provide technical services and created new service organizations to support that. There's also been the startup of a virtual care organization [a telemedicine facility] that has required us to design new service levels to support technology in that environment.  And it's been launching the Epic EHR and analytics commercialization project as well.

There have been so many changes in the business and in healthcare. We have a ton of other projects — meaningful use, HIMSS stage 7, new Epic functionality — that we need to deliver on-time and on-budget, and ensure they will deliver the value we said they would.

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

GH: One sizable project we have going on is switching 50,000 desktops to Windows 7. We're a multilocation, multistate organization, so we're really working on all the logistic of delivering this project in the least disruptive way.

But it's also about being able to prioritize these projects along with the daily IT support and maintenance. It's a good challenge because there's plenty to do, but at the same time you always need to make sure it's contributing value. It's easy to ensure things are done on time and on budget, but you need to make sure it delivers the value you said it would — that's the challenge.

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

GH: I'll mention the value word again — if you're working on something that doesn't deliver increased productivity to your co-workers, a new or better type of customer experience, a competitive advantage or a new business opportunity, then you probably shouldn't be working on it.

You need to ensure every project is contributing value to the organization. It's too easy to get caught up on projects that may not be delivering [value]. Sometimes you need to step away and see what it's actually doing for you.

The other thing is communication. When I dig into projects that encountered problems it's amazing the number of times communication was the root cause of the problems. You need to make sure you build the right relationships and are communicating with the right people. One thing I've found is that when we've had missteps it was because we didn't step back and look at the audience and make sure we were communicating the right message to the right audience.

All of us [CIOs] need to be doing constant reviews to make sure we're on track.

More Articles in the "Life of a Healthcare CIO" Series:

The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Fletcher Allen's Chuck Podesta
The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Intermountain's Marc Probst
The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Mass General's Keith Jennings

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