WakeMed CIO Dr. Peter Marks: EHRs, interoperability and the benefit of patient data sharing

When it comes to adopting new technology for patient engagement, Peter Marks, PhD, WakeMed Health and Hospitals vice president and CIO, knows the two don't always necessarily go hand in hand.  

"It's important to see technology as an enabler here and not a driver," Dr. Marks said. "[At WakeMed], we look at all avenues of access and engagement to help determine if and when technology is the best fit versus revamping our processes."

Dr. Marks joined Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed Health & Hospitals in August 2017. Prior to that, the Army career veteran served as CIO of infrastructure and operations for the Defense Health Agency. He brings more than 20 years of experience in healthcare IT management, having also held executive leadership positions with the Army, Navy and Department of Defense as well as military and community hospitals.

Here, Dr. Marks discusses some of WakeMed's most recent technology initiatives to enhance patients' experiences as well as his thoughts on EHRs and interoperability.

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

Question: What do you find frustrates your clinicians most about the EHR?

Dr. Peter Marks: Effective adoption of any information system generally comes down to two key measures: ease of use and usefulness. Customers who use information systems in any function work best when both areas are strong. They will still use the system if one area is strong, but if both areas are low performing, frustration and struggle will follow.

EHRs are constantly increasing functionality and integration to make systems both easy to use and useful from a provider perspective. While these functions are maturing among EHR vendors, there will always be room for improvement. We work with our staff to focus on optimizing workflow and training for providers. Thankfully, the measures for both perceived ease of use and usefulness are trending up at WakeMed, which only happens when everyone works together to improve patient care.

Q: What role does data play in improving patient care?

PM: Everyone is putting in a great deal of data into EHR systems – the 'sweet spot' is when the data becomes actionable information that translates to positive health outcomes for patients. At WakeMed, we continue to work toward this goal to make use of data that supports better patient care, which can be used to help keep patients healthy and live a better life. There is a promise here that will change healthcare as we know it – as long as we remain committed to the goal of becoming a 'data-driven culture' to improve patient care and outcomes.

Q: In terms of interoperability, what stage do you think EHRs are at?

PM: There is room to grow here. All patients need complete access to health information. Health information systems were initially deployed with the intent of making the practice or healthcare system more efficient. The core competency of sharing information across the continuum of care was not a driving design principle. As such, everyone is working to 'backwards-engineer' the sharing of data across different platforms – all the while, trying to do this securely so health information does not fall into the wrong hands. This is quite a challenge. Our vendor partners and government agencies are doing the right things by developing policies and technical methods to securely share health information. I am confident in the future here. It's just simply taking longer than we all want.

Q: What approach do you take when implementing new technology for patient engagement?  

PM: It's important to see technology as an enabler here and not a driver. We look at all avenues of access and engagement to help determine if and when technology is the best fit versus revamping our processes. When we think about patient engagement, our CMIO, Neal Chawla, MD, says we must look at people, process and technology. This could not be more important when we think about engaging people who seek health services.

Q: What is one recent technology initiative you launched to improve patient engagement?

PM: We launched WakeMed's wayfinding and patient engagement app because we wanted to offer a singular platform for patients — one that put all the tools, features and advanced capabilities in one place. With the app, patients have access to their WakeMed MyChart patient portal and medical records as well as a 'Find a [Physician]' database. App users can also schedule an appointment, reserve their seat in urgent cares, check up-to-date emergency department and urgent care wait times, access virtual urgent care and more.

To participate in future Becker's Q&As, contact Jackie Drees at jdrees@beckershealthcare.com. 

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