Methodist Le Bonheur Health Care embraces IT innovation, puts people first

Technology is only as good as the people it serves at the Memphis health system.
By Mike Miliard
06:41 AM
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To celebrate a recent employee satisfaction survey that saw a 93 response rate – and high marks to boot – Memphis, Tennessee-based Methodist Le Bonheur Health Care recently marked the occasion with a picnic.

In past years, it had celebrated with a dunking booth that allowed IT employees to take aim at their bosses – bet you can guess which one Chief Information Officer Mark McMath prefers.

But there's very little reason many MLH staffers would want to reach back for a little extra on their fastballs. As evidenced by its showing in the super category – and the fact that it's a repeat winner – most of the health system's 278 IT employees are pretty happy with their place of work.

"It's the basics," said McMath. "People feel appreciated. They're recognized and get credit for their great ideas."  

"People," added Chief Health Informatics Officer Cynthia Davis when asked what makes the place tick. "There's a culture at our health system: We are very focused on patients and families. 

We've worked very hard to make sure that everyone in IT knows that their role is at the bedside, and everything we do needs to be focused on what's the best thing for patients and families."

CTO Gene Fernandez added that innovation and teamwork are among MLH’s core values. 

Among the ongoing technology projects at MLH is patient engagement. Davis touted the health system as "one of the few in the country that provides real-time access to data through portal or mobile application."

By joining the OpenNotes initiative, allowing patients and families to see test results and clinical notes in real time, MLH has built a tool "that's been very well-received in the community," she said.

MLH is also developing technology to allows patients to enter their medications and their allergies and medical information directly into their own health record.

"We're doing a pilot in the ICU of one of our large, top-100 pediatric hospitals that allows patients to directly, using secure messaging, provide their observations to the care team," said Davis. "It's a collaborative process between patients, families and providers."

On another front, "two of our initiatives, this year into next year, have to do with enhancing and upgrading our network infrastructure," said Fernandez. "As we roll out clinical apps and try to improve the experience for patients and providers, give them real-time information as they're making care decisions, we've recognized that we need a solid foundation and infrastructure.”

The hospital's work to upgrade wired and wireless networks on all campuses enables it to step up its cybersecurity game and continue to earn the trust of patients while protecting vital information behind the scenes, which is important for big picture initiatives in the year ahead. 

"We're continuing on what we call 'telling the patient's story': Getting more data, the right data, into the workflow of clinicians," said Davis. "We have a pilot project underway using FHIR – we still have a number of EHRs at the health system, and that's a wonderful way to bring a very specific use case information into the workflow of providers.

Other priorities include evaluating replacing time and attendance systems and looking at a roadmap to replace a legacy mainframe with some newer revenue cycle solutions, deploying technologies to enable remote access to data. 

Based on feedback IT leadership has received during rounding in the clinics and hospitals, MLH will be prioritizing new ways to improve communication between patients and caregivers, as well as care teams, said McMath.

MLH is rolling out a new technology, Enhanced Communication, in the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital that will tap Apple devices so nurses can do rapid, light documentation of vital signs and other information – then can get that into the record faster to trigger surveillance. The new technology also makes it easier for the nurses so they can scan meds at the bedside and don’t have to carry laptops everywhere. 

"We've got a pretty diverse set of projects that all focus around patients and their families and the needs of caregivers," said McMath. "It's very much customer driven, with the benefit of a very collaborative environment within the IT organization as well as throughout the system to make it happen."

That focus will become even bigger moving into the future as MLH continues broadening the scope of its IT work. 

"We've been in a big implementation mode for a long time,” Davis said. “So it's a bit of a pivot for the staff. We've been working to get them to think analytically – getting them to analyze trends and information and solve problems based on data."

Best hospital IT departments: 2017

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Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com