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Optimum’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 Jon Morris, Former SVP & CIO of WellStar Health System.

OHIT: What drove your change from being a career Emergency Medicine physician to working in Healthcare Information Technology?

Jon Morris: In the early 2000’s my health system decided (for all the right reasons) to deploy our incumbent IT vendor’s Emergency Department Information System (EDIS) at my hospital. Our ED had a high annual patient volume and treated a lot of very sick patients. I began working as a subject matter expert during build and implementation to try and minimize negative impact. Everyone on the project recognized the clinical and strategic benefits of physician engagement and alignment; my work ultimately led to the role of CMIO. I became interim CIO in spring 2011 following my predecessor’s departure and was hired into the permanent position six months later.

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

Jon Morris: For the patient: Healthcare must continue its ongoing migration towards a more patient-centered, i.e., ambulatory and home-based care, value-based and cost-effective environment. Healthcare organizations will need to focus technology efforts on products and innovations that optimize the value of their current investments and expand capabilities around patient engagement, predictive analytics, useful analysis tools, cost management, ambulatory care, remote monitoring, assistive technologies, and telemedicine.

As of 2000, there were approximately 35 million Americans over the age of 65. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030 there will be approximately 71.5 million Americans over the age of 65. That number is more than twice what it was in 2000 and represents nearly 20% of the entire projected U.S. population in 2030.[1] As our country’s aging population continues to grow, we need to ensure healthcare’s focus supports aging in place and better end-of-life care.

For the clinician: Healthcare organizations should continue efforts to improve their IT posture and alignment with clinicians (and other operators) and decrease the adverse impact today’s healthcare business environment has on the clinician experience.

US healthcare’s increasingly complex economic and regulatory environment has pushed everyone in healthcare to their limits. Clinician burnout is rampant. Clinician and their leaders’ attentions are increasingly distracted and removed from patient care due to the technology limitations, data entry requirements, decreasing organizational agility, increasing market competition and the need to preserve margin. People often ask whether our organizations have become holding companies more than health systems.

OHIT: While in your role of CIO, what burning issue, question or concern was the first and last thing you thought of during the day?

Jon Morris: My first and last concern was (and is) always worrying about our country’s third leading cause of death: preventable patient harm caused by our people, processes or technologies.[2]  The role of a CIO in a technologically integrated health system is not limited just to technologies but includes the people and process parts as well. Healthcare IT is how we do business every day; it is an essential tool used by a team that spans the entire care continuum which includes both patients and caregivers. It is our job to ensure their safe and responsible use.

I am a huge and dedicated fan of technology. Over the last few decades, we have seen countless advances that dramatically improve patient care in myriad areas such as medication safety, spreading evidence-based best practices, reducing avoidable readmissions, improving access and sharing of information and much more.

At the same, we’ve added net-new risks to the healthcare environment due to our technology solutions, i.e., as enumerated by TJC (The Joint Commission) Safe Health IT Saves Lives program and TJC Sentinel Event Alerts 42 & 54.[3] Alert fatigue, fragmented care and systems, data overload and overly-complex interfaces degrade our clinician’s abilities to perform.

Today’s need for zero-harm and improved patient safety has more visibility and potential for success than ever. If we can develop and sustain the necessary focus, transparency, communication and clinician alignment we can mitigate this risk.

OHIT: Health systems across our country have made tremendous investments in Information Technology solutions; what is your advice for leaders who feel they have yet to realize the true value of their assets?

Jon Morris: Technology can never be the hero; technology only does what we tell it to do.

Healthcare leaders will always have an infinite list of valuable and important projects or goals to generate revenue, save money, decrease length of stay or readmission rates, increase survival, improve community health, decrease mortality or rescue kittens from trees. And there will never be enough budget or resources for everything.

Thinking of things to do is the easy part. The role of a leader is not just to decide what the goals are going to be, but of equal or even greater importance, what goals will not be pursued and then clearly communicate this information to all stakeholders. Leading by maintaining focus and scope will enable the vision and dedication necessary to deliver excellent IT alignment, build and execution as well as the means to ensure ongoing operation, patient care, and community health.


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