CFO Spotlight: Q&A With Gary Weiss, CFO of NorthShore University HealthSystem

Gary Weiss is executive vice president and CFO of Evanston, Ill.-based NorthShore University HealthSystem, with four hospitals and 650 employed physicians. Mr. Weiss talks about how he applied his experiences in banking to hospitals and why his system is performing so well, despite the recession.

Q. You spent more than 25 years in banking and financial services before coming to NorthShore in 2001. Were there any lessons you learned there that could be applied to hospitals and healthcare?

Gary Weiss: Banking and healthcare are two very different industries. I thought banking was highly regulated; healthcare is even more so. But one lesson I learned in banking is the incredible importance of information technology. I entered banking just when it was in the throes of some major changes, such as installation of ATMs and use of electronic funds transfers. Applying these changes, banks became more efficient and more customer-friendly. Banks that invested most heavily in technology could gain customers and lower their costs. The same is true of healthcare organizations that invested in electronic medical records.

Q: How is the recession affecting your hospital system?


GW: Like all hospitals, we've been experiencing an increase in uncompensated care and bad debt. More patients are unable to pay their bills. We expect it will continue to get worse. Unemployment is likely to increase and it has a lagging impact on healthcare, because the unemployed may initially have COBRA coverage.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, however, is well positioned to weather the storm. We have experienced a 17 percent topline revenue growth this year and we expect to continue performing well. Part of this has to do with investing in IT fairly early on. It also has to do with expanding our position in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago.

Q: How has NorthShore University HealthSystem fared with IT?


GW: Shortly after I arrived in 2001, we began installing an EMR and it was completed in 2003. EMR is available not only to our 650 employed physicians but also to all 2,400 physicians on staff. This has been a tremendous driver of growth. EMR allowed us to implement consistent procedures and ended inefficient and unsafe practices, such as handwritten records. The system is helping us understand clinical quality and identify outlier practice patterns.

Technology is also allowing us to take on more patients. Through a secure Web site called NorthShoreConnect, which we've offered for two or three years, patients can view their test results and medical record, message their physicians, pay bills and even renew prescriptions and schedule appointments. For example, the patient can search the system for the next available time for an MRI at nine to 10 available locations. This helps us spread out our access and ability to take care of more patients.  

Q: Can you talk about how this consolidation helps the system?

GW: In addition to Evanston Hospital and Glenbrook Hospital, our original facilities, we merged with Highland Park Hospital in 2000, which helped us expand our brand in Lake County. Our merger with Skokie Hospital in Jan. 2009 further consolidated our position. We also operate physicians offices and testing centers throughout the area. Remember I talked about using the NorthShoreConnect Web site to redirect patients to sites with the earliest available appointments? The close proximity between offices, due to our concentration in Lake County, allows us to offer those choices.

Q: A few major Chicago-area hospitals are in the midst of major building projects. Do you have any in the works?

GW: We don't have any major new hospital projects in the works, but we have been investing steadily in our physical plant over the years. This summer we opened a new Center for Breast Health and we are overhauling of our ORs and the Kellogg Cancer Care Center at the Evanston campus.

Learn more about NorthShore University HealthSystem at www.northshore.org.

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