Guerra On Healthcare: Experienced CIOs, Share Your EMR Knowledge

Tech execs who've successfully implemented electronic medical record systems should consider mentoring less-experienced peers.
Meeting the HITECH legislation's Stage 1 requirements for the "meaningful use" of electronic medical records is going to be tough on all healthcare providers, but there's no doubt it will be harder for some than others.

Many of my readers at are already far down the path to electrify their healthcare environments and liquefy health data in the process. But those individuals are mostly CIOs at large academic medical centers and the few community hospitals that have sophisticated IT shops.

What will become of smaller facilities that boast only a handful of professionals most accustomed to refreshing the desktops every few years?

I discussed this issue after a podcast with Chuck Podesta, senior VP & CIO at Fletcher Allen, a Burlington, Vt., medical center that's affiliated with the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He's working on extending his installation of the Epic Systems EMR to the smaller community hospitals that surround Fletcher Allen, the only large, academic medical center in the area.

The effort isn't being done to generate revenue for Fletcher Allen but to improve healthcare in the local community, Podesta said. Of course, the costs will be passed along to the participating hospitals, and there will, theoretically, be an increase in the volume of referrals coming from those facilities to Fletcher Allen. But, nonetheless, the vision doesn't rest on a hard return on investment.

So what will happen to organizations that don't fall within the benevolent orbit of a Fletcher Allen? Perhaps it's time for industry groups like the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) to launch an "Adopt A Hospital" program.

Experienced CIOs with clinical system implementation bona fides would volunteer to mentor IT directors at smaller facilities, many of which don't even have CIOs. The mentors would provide guidance on gap analyses, strategic planning, budgeting, fostering project buy-in, system selection, infrastructure and network management, contract negotiation, implementation and, ultimately, meaningful use.

Using Internet-spawned communication technologies such as Skype, 80 percent of the collaboration could be handled remotely, much like the EMR certification "site inspections" being talked about. Of course, since nothing beats an on-the-ground review to really walk in the pupil's shoes, a semi-annual get-together shouldn't ruled out.

The potential benefits to both parties are tremendous. Those being mentored would get knowledge, advice and support. Their organizations would get a sound IT environment and, hopefully, incentive funds for successfully complying with meaningful use requirements.

Mentors would get what in all likelihood would be the most rewarding experience of their careers and the knowledge that they may have literally saved lives by ensuring system uptime and reliability. Mentors' organizations would get as much positive PR as their department dedicated to that work could handle.

If the government had set aside even a sliver of HITECH monies for a program like this, the industry would be in a far better position than it is today. Unfortunately, government did what comes naturally to it: spent far too much money in an inefficient and open-ended manner. Now it's time for healthcare providers to do what comes naturally to them: jump into the breach and lend a helping hand.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at [email protected]

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