Culture meets history: How Mercy's IT team builds on its roots

The 900-plus team at the St. Louis health system take patient care personally and are working hard to roll out Epic to other hospitals, embrace virtual care and dive into data analytics.
By Mike Miliard
06:39 AM
Best Hospital IT department 2017

Mercy health system has been around for just over 30 years now, but its roots go back much further, first to the House of Mercy opened by Catherine McAuley in 1827 Dublin and later to the Sisters of Mercy, the religious order she founded, which would expand to U.S. in 1871, delivering care in St. Louis and across the Midwest.

Those pioneering nuns would probably hardly recognize the sprawling system today, with its 44 hospitals and 700-plus outpatient facilities, all consistently leading-edge in their use of health information technology. Mercy has, far and away, the most IT employees of any health system in this contest, with more than 900.

"What really makes it a great place to work is that culture, and what a lot of that history is embedded in. It's a very innovative organization,” said CIO Gil Hoffman. “They're risk takers, which is sometimes unusual for healthcare. They're very willing to try new things and some pretty bold moves, especially where technology is concerned."

The driving mission for IT employees at Mercy, in fact, is to really change a person's life through the technology expertise that they have. Mercy’s sprawling tech team, in fact, has been working hard on a long list of recent projects. From data and analytics to telehealth and remote monitoring, the hospital’s big initiatives also include commercializing some of its IT. 

"We've been growing really fast so there's a lot of acquisition work going on, as far as bringing other healthcare organizations into our infrastructure, converting them to some of our Epic systems," said Hoffman. "That's been a lot of work. We're also a little bit unique from the standpoint that Mercy sells its IT services to other providers: We have commercialized our IT, and that has taken a lot of work, bringing some other health systems not only into our Epic services but our hosting services as well.

"We're doing a lot to extend care at home, looking at several medical devices and internet-of-things that can track data at home," he added. “There's environmental and other data we can collect, not just clinical, to help us understand how to better care for people."

There's also a lot going on with data and analytics, he said, notably to develop care paths and workflows that are consistent and based on data and lead to better outcomes for our patients at a lower cost, Hofffman added. 

"I can't mention analytics enough," he said. "Healthcare has been sitting on a ton of data for years, and it has just now, I think, in the past few years, woken up to what the value of all that data really is. So strategically a lot of our projects are going to be focused on better use of analytics, better capabilities with real-time data, better logistics for patient care.

Mercy's 910 tech employees will be working to maintain the mission started more than 150 years ago and doing so in an environment where Hoffman said there is very little personnel turnover. 

"Be clear about your goals – not just your own team goals but those of the organization," said Hoffman, when asked for advice other hospitals could emulate for to create happy and productive IT departments. "And be able to tie everything you're doing to those goals very clearly, so everybody understands your expectations and the value they bring."

It's important too to listen constantly to your team to understand the problems they encounter, especially those that are preventing them from delivering value because it’s a leader number one goal to remove those obstacles for the team. 

"The next step is to be able to adjust very quickly," said Hoffman. "Make sure you can get that team on track as a leader, communicate often and recognize those people who are delivering value. If you do those things and create a team that's all in sync, you can accomplish some great things. I think our team is evidence of that."

Best hospital IT departments: 2017

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Click here to learn more about how we chose this year's winners.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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