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optimum-healthcare-it-chuck-podestaOptimum’s Executive Interview Series

Welcome back to Optimum Healthcare IT’s “4 Questions with…” series, where we interview top CIOs in the Healthcare IT space.  We search for the leaders with track records of service excellence, who are passionate about their work and make patient safety their top priority.

In this installment, we talk with Chuck Podesta, CIO of UC Irvine Health.

OHIT:  What burning issue, question or concern is the first and last thing you think of during the day.  What, when you think of it, you find yourself becoming hyper-focused?

Chuck Podesta: It depends on the priority of the day, week, month. For example, we are in budget season. Preparing for the next fiscal capital and operating budget can be an exhausting process that requires a lot of work by a lot of people.  Deadlines need to be met and stress can be high. Execution of next year’s initiatives depends on this budget.  Once we complete the process my focus moves on to the next big thing. For CIOs, there is no one burning issue. If you focus on one you’ll probably miss the other five.

OHIT:  What are the two most significant trends impacting the healthcare industry?

Chuck Podesta: I would say IT strategies around value-based care and transforming the way we deliver IT services.  The former includes many IT components such as EHR Optimization, Analytics strategy, Telemedicine, information exchange, etc. It is not an IT-centric process since a multi-disciplinary group is needed to be successful.  As we move away from fee for service our systems and processes need to change radically to meet the cost, quality and patient experience challenges.  Unfortunately, there is no one-stop shop that provides the solutions needed.  IT service delivery also needs to change. Margins are eroding across the healthcare landscape.  Like never before IT is needed to support the cost-saving initiatives of the organization while also undergoing its own cost-cutting transformation. Our customers are becoming tech savvy. We should use that skill.  Our job should be to get them involved directly with the IT solution. Letting the physicians make changes directly to the EHR is one example. By transforming the IT enterprise into a group of enablers, trainers, educators, mentors will ultimately lower costs by spreading the IT costs over a larger base. Easier said than done but I believe our customers, in the future, will demand more direct involvement and we need to change.

OHIT:  What strategic initiatives will healthcare organizations be focusing on over the next couple of years?

Chuck Podesta: Whether it is a trend or initiative the IT enterprise will need to transform itself to lower costs and be more nimble. The best way to do that is figure out how to get out of the way. Imagine if you had to call the help desk every time you wanted to make a change to your iPhone. How long would it take to add an app, a contact, etc?  You get my drift. This is not the fault of the IT organization since processes and rules of engagement have been defined over the years based on the technological solutions needs. We don’t have the luxury of time anymore. Eighteen-month projects need to be six months or less. Six-month projects, weeks.  As our customers become savvier we can leverage their knowledge to transform how IT delivers services and bring them closer to the solution.

OHIT:  What is the most rewarding and satisfying thing about what you do every day?

Chuck Podesta: Enabling my team to solve problems. I view it as a mentoring function. My leadership style is to create a strong leadership team then turn them loose and get out of the way. I show them the goal line but I don’t care how they get there. If they want to run backward for 10 yards first, I let them. It is part of the learning process. Usually, they figure it out and begin running in the right direction. Sometimes a little positive reinforcement is needed.  They know how to bring the right people together solve problems, regardless of their position within the organization.  I am very comfortable with any one of my leaders meeting directly with our CFO or COO without me in the room.  This frees me up to do my job while they are doing theirs. All I ask is that since I don’t like surprises, pull me in early on issues that may get escalated.

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