Why VCU Health's new CIO is laser-focused on usability + adoption: Q&A with Ellen Wiegand

From protecting her health system's IT budget to archiving and sunsetting remaining IT systems that were replaced by the health system's new core enterprise platforms, VCU Health's new CIO and Senior Vice President Ellen Wiegand is focused on usability and adoption in 2023. 

Becker's spoke to Ms. Wiegand about her new role, healthcare technology and where the Richmond, Va.-based health system's IT will be going in the new year. 

Question: What does VCU's current tech environment look like? And what are some challenges you look to overcome?

Ellen Wiegand: Over the last two years, VCU Health has implemented three core enterprise platforms — Epic, Workday and ServiceNow. This was all done during the COVID-19 pandemic and while opening a new adult outpatient pavilion and our first ambulatory surgery center. We completed the major implementations, and that is just the start to realizing the value of our new systems. A key initiative for us this year will be usability and adoption, making sure we have safe and efficient workflows to support our clinicians and team members in their daily work. We've built a strong foundation, and now it is all about making our new systems work for us and our patients. 

Q: What is something that excites you about your new role?

EW: I am excited about working with the great team at VCU Health, both within IT and our partners in clinical and business operations, to further our mission to preserve and restore health for all people of Virginia and beyond. We have a remarkable team who is able to drive innovation through integrating research, academics and care delivery. We also have the technology in place to turn our ideas into action. I see tremendous potential to transform the way we deliver healthcare, making it safer, more accessible and improving patient and team member experience.

Q: In 2023, where do you see your organization's IT budget going?

EW: We're halfway through our fiscal year 2023, and are just starting to plan for fiscal year 2024. With the large implementations we just completed, we're targeting the archival and sunset of the remaining systems replaced by Epic, Workday and ServiceNow. We also have pent up demand for work efforts deferred during the enterprise systems implementations, and are carefully evaluating those. Like many other organizations, we're protecting our budget for cybersecurity, infrastructure and application upgrades, and the services closest to our patients and customers, such as field services, training and our technical operations center.

Q: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the role of a health system CIO?

EW: One big misconception about healthcare CIOs, and our IT teams, is that we are a back-office support function, and we care more about the technology than the people using it. This couldn't be further from the truth. Healthcare CIOs and their teams have roots in the entire healthcare system. We must deliver technology that adds value for all our patients, clinicians, and team members, and that requires mutual understanding, respect and collaboration. We’re connectors and strategists, and we know how to get things done. We're uniquely prepared to lead transformation efforts and build collaborative multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex problems and bring innovative ideas into reality.

Q: What are some trends in the health IT space that you're keeping tabs on?

EW: We're at a critical point in healthcare — across the nation, there are staffing issues, cost pressures and growing consumer expectations. It will be critical for the healthcare industry to leverage technology to create efficiencies, extend our workforce and provide the experiences consumers expect and deserve. 

To that end, artificial intelligence, process mining and automation are just a few trends that I'm especially interested in. Understanding our processes, and automating those that can be safely automated will enable us to be more efficient, reliable and safe. They can also bring more joy into our daily work, as we would be able to free up our clinician and team members' time to focus on the aspects of their jobs that are especially meaningful for them.

Q: Any exciting new IT projects or partnerships VCU is working on?

EW: VCU Medical Center recently launched Home Hospital, a new program that will allow patients to receive acute, hospital-level care from within the comfort of their homes. The Home Hospital program is the first of its kind in central Virginia and aims to serve nearly 2,000 patients during its first year. Patients who would normally have needed to be in a hospital for acute care needs, such as sepsis, congestive heart failure or pneumonia, now have the option to receive the same level of care at home.

Another exciting project we're working on is the opening of our new Children's Tower, which is Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU's new home for inpatient, emergency and trauma care. The Children’s Tower is connected to the outpatient Children's Pavilion, completing an entire city block dedicated to caring for kids. It was designed for — and with the help of — families and providers in our community and based on extensive research into best practices in pediatric healthcare.

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