One on one with HIMSS Board Chair Dana Alexander

'I embrace change'
By Bernie Monegain
08:24 AM
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HIMSS Board Chair Dana Alexander, RN

HIMSS Board Chair Dana Alexander, RN, describes herself as someone who has always been eager to embrace change

She also is someone who knows – has always known – that healthcare is the right field for her.

Healthcare has certainly presented her with many opportunities to work in an ever-changing environment, especially over the past decade. Alexander is vice president of clinical transformation at Divurgent, a healthcare consulting firm.

Before joining Divurgent, Alexander worked with Caradigm, a GE Healthcare and Microsoft venture, as vice president of integrated care delivery and chief nursing officer.

We caught up with Alexander a few weeks prior to this year's National Health IT Week, held October 5-9 across the country, and prior to HIMSS Annual HIMSS Policy Summit, which convenes in Washington, D.C., each year as part of National Health IT Week.

In the interest of full disclosure, HIMSS, a global, cause-based, not-for-profit organization focused on better health through information technology, is the parent company of HIMSS Media, which publishes Healthcare IT News.

Q: As board chair, do you set an agenda? It's such a short term – just one year – what do you hope to accomplish?
A: The HIMSS board and HIMSS leadership each year gets together and we always collectively on an annual basis get together and we determine strategic direction for the upcoming year. We take a look at the industry, where the market is going, and where do we put our focused. That occurs in December of every year.

My areas of focus are in alignment with HIMSS' strategic direction.

  • One is ensuring the continued dedication to the HIMSS mission, our credibility and integrity of the organization, which I think is very strong. We are well respected across the industry. We have a strong voice at the table. So, that's very important to me as leadership and the chair.
  • Also, our continued focus on interoperability and usability. We have definitely stated that very clearly as part of our strategic direction. Obviously, there is a cluster of challenges around interoperability, but I do believe that we just need to continue to keep our focus in that area and our work effort, particularly as we're driving toward population health and accountable care. I believe that HIMSS is in a prime position to influence the government and the private sector as related to interoperability and usability.
  • Another area is moving toward population health and accountable care, given our goals around the national strategy and the Triple Aim is to continue to promote innovation and the development of analytics. All of that is needed for supporting a foundation for achieving our goals for better health and healthier community We need that type of analytics insight for everyone.
  • Another area is around fostering relationships between patients/consumers and providers of technology. I think the HIMSS North America Board that we really have to the opportunity to shape the consumer engagement initiative Even though we may not be the HIMSS North America Consumer Group, we do have opportunity to influence and engage the consumer in their health and optimizing their health.
  • Can we as the HIMSS North America Board continue to collaborate within HIMSS on a global scale? Continue to grow on a global basis? We now have a global HIMSS Board. We need to really grow and strengthen our relationship with other boards and those other initiatives to be able to advance the overall HIMSS mission on a global basis.

Q: It seems like so much to accomplish by the end of the year…
A: It's not that within the end of this year everything's going to be completed. It's about having the focus, the tenacity. We have to stay with it, It is an evolution, and we are continuing to move forward in a very positive way.

[See also: National Health IT Week: Where will we be in 5 years?]

Q: How has your experience as a nurse informed or inspired the work that you do today?
A: Being a nurse has afforded me wonderful insight and opportunity. My experience as a nurse and the many roles I have performed in healthcare over 25-plus years has really well positioned me for the work and the opportunities that are in front of us today. Anyone that knows me knows that I'm passionate about healthcare I have a really strong conviction that I am in the right industry. I always have. Because of my past experiences as a nurse and healthcare administrator has allowed be those insights across a broad range healthcare setting. In the past decade-plus, my technology experience and then seeing the emerging technology that needs to come forward really expands my thinking about how patients and consumers and clinicians can be better supported in the future. I think it's the most exciting area to be in.

Q: How do you make yourself think outside the box?
A: I've always been a person who has not been afraid of change. I embrace change. I also believe that what got us here is not necessarily what's going to get us to where we need to be in the future, and so, therefore change is important. We need to be able to think about doing things in a different way. I also like to learn from other industries, how they have evolved and changed and how can that be applied to healthcare. Those are the aspects I always charge myself with as a consultant and adviser.

[See also: Special Report: NHITWeek 2015]

Q: What in your work has made you the proudest over the years?
A: There's always one hallmark project that's carried me over the years. It was my early days of stepping into the health IT sector and the early days of CPOE implementation. It was at Children's Hospital at Pittsburgh, where I led the transformation effort. The client – CEO and leadership – were fully engaged. As a result not only did we have a successful big-bang go-live, but we achieved adoption as well. That experience really solidified for me how important it is to pay attention to the transformation aspect of implementing technology, to engage the stakeholders. Leadership and physician-engagement were critical. They considered the change management, the communication and the training. All of those components really led to the success of that project.

Q: What is the most important thing you've learned in all your years in healthcare IT – in different areas of health IT?
A: I think we've all come to understand it's not as easy as it might look on the surface. It really does take a lot of tenacity, commitment, involving the right stakeholders. It can be stakeholders collaborating – vendors, providers and the payers, as well. I think payers will become more important, particularly as we're moving into population health and value-based care – of course, CMS being one of the largest payers out there. I've been pleased to see more openness and transparency and the willingness to collaborate.

Q: You work at hospitals across the country. What do you see as the greatest need among providers?
A: When I think about the different reimbursement and penalty programs, whether we're talking about value-based purchasing, accountable care organizations, the readmission reduction program, etc., there are always competing priorities. A lot of organizations are not dealing with just one reimbursement model; they're dealing with several – from fee-for-service on up to full risk, and something in between. They have to accommodate all of these financial reimbursement models for their organization in order to remain financially solvent. How do we do that? Where do we start? Where to do we prioritize? That's where I see that health systems really need help. It's prioritizing how to incrementally achieve their strategies for quality and outcomes and vale-based change. I think a lot of them need some guidance, where to focus, how to get started.

Q: What's the best health IT idea that you've seen or used?
I'm very excited about the expanding use of telehealth and mobile health. I think the possibilities are already changing behavior, and I think it's fueling innovation and new emerging technology that is really going to shape how healthcare is managed and delivered differently in the future. I'm very, very bullish in that area.

Q: What makes a good leader?
A: I think it's several traits. I think honesty. I think it's important for an individual to be authentic. A leader needs to be confident. A leader needs to have the ability to inspire and motivate. Good leaders listen a lot, and they ask questions to be able to seek those new ideas. A good leader needs to think positively. That's very important. Communicate clearly. Maybe use intuition, and trust ourselves. Those are characteristics that come to mind and I aspire to myself.