Managing transformation without losing sight of the patient: Beaumont Health System

The responsibilities of a Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a healthcare organization of any size can be extremely daunting. When considering the magnitude of a CIO’s tasks and challenges that are created when combining the IT infrastructures and processes of three large organizations, one may feel as though customer service might take a back seat to other goals, if only momentarily. Subra Sripada, Chief Transformation Officer, System Chief Information Officer, Beaumont Health and his staff, however, are not only successfully managing one of the largest healthcare transitions in North America, but they are also making sure that their work is aimed squarely at leveraging their technologies at the most fundamental, patient-friendly objectives.

Sripada and I discuss his job responsibilities, as well as how he sees his work as being vital to establishing a strong relationship with Beaumount Health’s patients.   

(Editor’s note: To hear audio excerpts of this interview, click on the media player buttons that run throughout this article.)

Free: Before we discuss the transformation you are leading, could you please provide an outline of your professional background?

Subra Sripada, Chief Transformation Officer, System Chief Information Officer, Beaumont Health

Subra Sripada, Chief Transformation Officer, System Chief Information Officer, Beaumont Health

Sripada: Before I came to Beaumont Health System six years ago, I was working in management consulting. I came to Beaumont from Price Waterhouse Cooper. Prior to that, I consulted with Capgemini and Ernst and Young. I also worked was in the industry with Henry Ford Health System and then others.

My focus is on IT and business strategy. In my consulting work, I focused on business transformations. Using that experience, I have been very deeply involved with the integration of the three health systems that are coming together to create Beaumont Health. 

It is a good confluence of technology-enabled transformation here because we are strong believers that  IT is going to be a key differentiator and those who figure out how to leverage the technology to not only drive better outcomes for our patients, drive better efficiency as well as make possible what previously was not possible in healthcare.

Healthcare is becoming fast consumer focused and as patients become consumers, and they become more responsible for the cost burden, they are going to be shopping for services. We believe that access, convenience, choice and price is where this industry is going and we are actively gearing up for this transformation.

Free: Integrating three distinct health IT systems is not done every day. Can you please tell us more about your working in developing Beaumont Health?

Sripada: We have been working on this affiliation/merger to create something new over the past year or so. We closed the transaction last September. The founding organizations are Beaumont Health System, which is a three-hospital system, Oakwood Health Care System, which is a four-hospital system and Botsford Hospital, which is in Farmington Hills. This new combination of systems gives us a significant southeast Michigan presence as about forty percent of the entire population of the state lives in this geography.

The new company, Beaumont Health, has about 33,000 employees and roughly 10,000 nurses. It is made up of eight hospitals with about 153 ambulatory locations and over 5,000 physicians. We have nursing homes and long-term patient care facilities as well. There is also an ambulance company, along with the acute care setting and the ambulatory setting.

Having said that, from a technology perspective, we have tried to keep things as simple as possible as we make this transition.

The clinical information system, which tends to be the driver for all of our hospitals and ambulatory care centers; there is a lot of advantages when that system is a single system and so Beaumont Health system had Epic as their clinical information system, and then Oakwood had implemented Epic about a year or so ago. Both of us are on the same version of Epic and talk to each other and Botsford was on a different system and they are being migrated on to Epic this year. By October of this year, they will be on Epic as well. So that the consolidating our clinical footprint anyway in terms of a single or common EMR.

The ERP side, which is all of the back office functions, they are all going to be in PeopleSoft. Oakwood was on PeopleSoft. Botsford was, again, on a separate system and Beaumont was on an Oracle E-buisness suite. We are combining those to get them to PeopleSoft and that is going to happen this year as well.

Free: It would be impossible to create a success plan of action for this transformation without looking for examples of best practices for aligning separate IT systems. Where did you look for ideas as you prepared for such an undertaking?

Sripada: It is almost like creating an IT index and as we are in the process of consolidating three organizations and creating something new, we have an opportunity to shape IT at the next level in terms of where the business is going, not where the business is.

There are different organizations that do different things well. I can’t think of one organization that does everything well. We are doing our own research right now. I can’t name organizations, but we hear them in our own various organizations in terms of someone has done a patient portal really well, while someone else had done infrastructure virtualizations really well, while someone else has aligned their clinical information system and leverages data for a clinically-integrated network really well.

There are pockets of best practices out there that any CIO would want to look at. I think it would be a mistake to look at one person and say, “We want to be like them,” because there are so many different drivers to consider like if the health system is in a remote part of the country that has no competition and they have rural settings to cope with and, therefore, they are doing a lot of work with telemedicine for example. They are really doing well and want a showcase for that. I don’t really have a need for those sorts of best practices here at Beaumont Health given that I am in an urban setting here. There is less of a need for us, and less of a demand for those services, so I have to focus on other areas of practice that suit our geographic needs and resources.

Michigan especially has, we have talked about Epic as our clinical information system and there are over 12-13 organizations. There are even more now in the state of Michigan which is a majority of the health systems have Epic as their clinical information system. Some of them are still implementing it in there. Some of them are there. Some of them recently got there, and there are some of us that have had it for awhile. So, Beaumont started a user group for Epic about three years ago, bringing all of these people together and saying, “We don’t want to compete on data. This data belongs to our patients.” Kind of adopting that mantra. Luckily, all of my fellow CEO’s and CIO’s are of the same mindset and we have really achieved a lot by sharing a lot of the data and our goal is that especially in this state any Michiganian, or any traveler to the state of Michigan, can walk in to get care anywhere and their data is going to be available. I think that is doable and that is where we are going.

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