Champion for nurses, patients
Joyce Sensmeier, HIMSS vice president for informatics, started her career ay Palos Community Hospital in Shaker Heights, Ill. It was not long before she was charged with computer training for the hospital. As she puts it, this was “back in the day” in the early 1980s – the days of the mainframe. The electronic health record was nothing like there is today. Sensmeier took to her dual role as nurse and computer guru. It satisfied her desire to make a difference and her penchant for detail. Fast-forward to the year 2000.
Joyce Sensmeier, HIMSS vice president for informatics, started her career ay Palos Community Hospital in Shaker Heights, Ill. It was not long before she was charged with computer training for the hospital. As she puts it, this was “back in the day” in the early 1980s – the days of the mainframe. The electronic health record was nothing like there is today. Sensmeier took to her dual role as nurse and computer guru. It satisfied her desire to make a difference and her penchant for detail. Fast-forward to the year 2000. Sensmeier had just completed the Y2K testing for her hospital – a big job to prepare for an event that turned out to be a non-event – when HIMSS recruited her to be its first advocate. She jumped at the opportunity to grow her skills and to have even more impact on patient care through her work not only on informatics, but also on interoperability. She started the Connectathon 11 years ago. The growing and popular Interoperability Showcase at the annual HIMSS conference was her brainchild – now evolved far beyond what she first envisioned.
What was the combined work of nursing and informatics like for you?
What I found is that I really enjoyed the work in seeing how you could be innovative with technology and how it can support the workflow of nurses and the importance of having a nurse in that role to provide feedback to the programmers and to influence how systems were developed, designed and implemented. I could see that the nurses were quite concerned about what the technology was going to be doing to them and whether or not they would be able to handle these changes in terms of making sure they didn’t compromise patient care. For them to have someone that is a peer to go to, or express their concerns or provide feedback on changes, or things that are working or not working was really important.
Did you always have a bent toward technology?
I guess what has drawn me to this is the opportunity to be creative with the systems – the innovation that you can do. The fact that I was able to influence patient care still – but at a broader level so it wasn’t just one-on-one with patients, but now I could impact populations of patients through my work – that was also attractive.
Why did you join HIMSS?
HIMSS recruited me to the organization because they wanted to have content experts, on staff – subject matter experts, like myself, that had actually worked in the environment, where members worked, and understood their day-to-day challenges and what tools and resources might be needed and important to them. As Steve Lieber (HIMSS president and CEO) had worked with nurses in the past and had understood the nursing role as it relates to IT, he felt there was value in bringing a nurse on board that worked in IT to provide that resource internally to HIMSS.
Even with all the skills you brought to HIMSS, it sounds like you have grown tremendously since 2000.
HIMSS is an extremely supportive environment. I can stretch myself and help achieve these things on behalf of our members and on behalf of patients to really influence healthcare. HIMSS’ mission is embraced by all of our leadership and that has resonated with me from Day 1. Norris Orms (HIMSS executive vice president and chief operating officer) has said to me one of the most important things that we’re doing, and one of the projects that I was going to work on was IHE – Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise. I see that as a tremendous way to impact patient care.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in this field?
One of the challenges that we have had is helping nurses to act as leaders and really step up for the important roles that they can fill. I think that’s starting to happen now. Nurses are great at getting the job done, doing their work, being advocates for the patient and articulate educators. But, what we aren’t always good at is standing up as a leader and saying, ‘this is what is important to our specialty, and it’s important to listen to us.’”
How fast is the position of CNIO growing, and is it being taken seriously?
I know that those roles are commanding pretty good salaries – like over $200,000. They are more and more frequently positioned along with the CMIO positions. So they’re partners in leading health IT projects. It is my sense that organizations are recognizing that it’s not just about the physicians. You cannot ignore their needs when it comes to system selection, implementation etc. I think organizations are recognizing that.
What’s the biggest difference you’ve been able to make in this field?
I think my contributions have been in helping nurses to understand the importance of their role and what technology and informatics can do to improve patient care. Then there’s the interoperability effort. We will have the data that we need wherever we need it in a safe environment and we will be able to leverage that data to really, truly transform the way we do patient care, and also improve health outcomes for patients. We’ll be able to look at populations of patients, better understand what we did to make them be better, to improve their care and to improve their health. We can’t do that without the foundation of interoperability. We won’t be able to make that next leap. Hopefully I’ve made a little bit of a difference in that area as well.
What do you see for yourself as it relates to the industry five years from now?
For me personally, at this point in my career, what I’m trying to do is to help mentor other nurses in this type of work so that they can lead efforts. They can help us continue to move the bar forward. It’s really important for us to give back – to reach back and pull forward the next generation. I’m starting to spend more time on that, and it feels good to be able to take the time to do that.
Interview by Bernie Monegain