Why every CIO needs to know how to partner: Lehigh Valley Health Network CIO Michael Minear

Since being appointed CIO at Allentown, Pa.-based Lehigh Valley Health Network in 2015, Michael Minear has spearheaded the implementation and optimization of an Epic EHR.

With nearly 40 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Mr. Minear knows how fast healthcare moves. He also understands how challenging it can be to change norms. 

Below, Mr. Minear discusses how consumerism has changed healthcare as well as the issues with the spike in technology options. 

Editor’s note: Responses have been light edited for clarity and length. 

Question: If you could solve one health IT challenge/headache overnight, what would it be and why?

Michael Minear: We are facing so much change in healthcare from the rise of value-based purchasing to pressures to improve quality. At the same time, we have a lot of technology options at our disposal. In our case, we are fully deployed with Epic. We have a lot of claims management tools with Optum. The challenge then is how do we take this huge amount of need and requirement for change with all the technology options we have to create a strategy. We know directionally what we need to focus on; however, it's most often complicated by other plans. Healthcare organizations need to develop strategies that the entire organization can get behind. 

Q: How has the rise in consumerism changed the way you look at healthcare?

MM: The biggest thing that has impacted the way we are managing and visioning technology is how we connect with consumers, or patients. As an example, we have around 300,000 patients that use the Epic patient portal MyChart. We then get about 450 calls a week from patients asking for technical support. Another way to think about that is we have around 18,000 employees in our organization, but we are supporting 300,000 patients with this technology. 

We've done a lot with MyChart and expanded remote patient monitoring program to connect with patients and allow patients to connect with us. There are so many touchpoints with patients and technology. We target patients with consumer testing devices. 

Currently, we have around 500 patients that we are monitoring. We are doing this because the clinical and financial risk for us is so great with readmission penalties and clinical outcomes. For the program, we identify through our data analytics a cohort of patients that need critical attention. We actively identify patients for the program at the hospital with the goal of having the patient monitored from their homes immediately after leaving the hospital. 

Q: What is one health IT fad you want to leave behind in 2019? 

MM: I've been trying to leave behind niche software for the past 20 years. We've made a huge investment in an EHR software suite. We have other software suites, and we are still constantly inundated with vendors. These vendors are marketing a piece of niche software that does a very specific thing and can't interoperate with other systems. I thought this would die down over the years, but it seems to have accelerated. 

For example, I have a lot of people that come back from conferences saying we have to incorporate artificial intelligence. I ask them why we need the technology. And typically, the same people don't have a response. We call these things "bright shiny objects." With AI specifically, we can do a lot of the same machine learning and analysis through Epic. It's better to do it through our core system as opposed to trying to extract date, send it to a niche data, worry about security and privacy, and knowing how to use the data in a clinical workflow. 

Q: What is one thing every CIO needs in his/her playbook?

MM: I have to say knowing how to partner is extremely important. Healthcare leaders don't do anything of value unless we create a fundamental partnership. Some of this partnership is within the IT group. Every key project needs partners, including clinicians, operations partners and financial players. If you are trying to do things without a coalition or broad partnership, you won't have a big impact. 

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