Why clinical teams drive EHR success: Q&A with SSM Health CIO Dr. Philip Loftus

Philip Loftus, PhD, CIO at SSM Health in St. Louis, shares how he helps promote innovation and the most surprising factors he's found regarding patient population.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How do you promote innovation within your organization?

Dr. Philip Loftus: We promote innovation among our information health technology team by partnering closely with clinical staff and physicians — both in the hospital and ambulatory environment. It helps us to better understand the workflow issues and challenges so we can work together to find new solutions. It also enables us to work closely to evaluate new medical devices and software to determine if they can be clinically integrated into our core EHR system.

Another key factor is simultaneously supporting innovation and standardization. By that, I mean when one of our regions achieves an IHT success, we do what we can to make that success standard procedure, or a best practice, across our entire system.

Q: What's the biggest misconception about health IT?

PL: One of the biggest misconceptions about IHT is that we're responsible for driving the adoption of EHRs. We can build them, integrate them and support them, but they must be owned and championed by clinical teams to be successful. Bottom line, IHT needs to truly be a collaborative partner in support of our clinical teams.

Another common misconception is that every medical instrument or software package can be integrated into the EHR. Knowing those kinds of limitations upfront is critical when choosing new devices and software. As a result, clinical and IHT teams have to collaborate and be aligned before making decisions and purchases in these areas.

Q: What is one thing you've learned about your patient population that's really surprised you?

PL: For me, what's most surprising about patients is how very interested they are in electronic access to their health record. It began years ago with lab test results. Next was the ability of our patients with chronic conditions to track results of their blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, etc. over time. Today, electronic access enables new functionality that allows our patients to easily schedule or re-schedule appointments, pay their bills or copays and securely message their doctor or other clinical staff. In fact, about half of our patients take advantage of electronic access to their health records, an amount that has exceeded my expectations.

Another surprise is that while you expect the millennials to be primary users of electronic records, which is definitely true, the second largest contingent is our older retired patients. It turns out seniors are much more sophisticated when it comes to technology and more likely to use it than many would suspect, and that's been an eye-opening revelation.

Q: How do you motivate employees within your organization?

PL: Because our IHT employees are working in the healthcare industry, they are already pre-disposed to helping others. As a result, when they realize that their efforts can improve the patient experience — in the hospital, at their physician's office or when accessing their EHRs — that's a big motivating factor. We encourage our IHT staff to visit hospitals and other care settings whenever possible so they can hear and see firsthand from patients and clinicians how technology is impacting their respective experiences. If technology can enhance patient care and employee satisfaction, it's a win-win situation. In the end, it all ties back to our mission of delivering exceptional healthcare services that reveal the healing presence of God.

To learn more about clinical and IT leadership, register for the Becker's Hospital Review 2nd Annual Health IT + Clinical Leadership Conference May 2-4, 2019 in Chicago. Click here to learn more and register.

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

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