Children's Mercy's David Chou: Business decisions increasingly drive IT efforts

david chouThe job of a hospital chief information officer is becoming less about knowing the brass tacks of technology and more about making business-savvy decisions around the use of IT, according to David Chou, vice president and CIO at Kansas City, Missouri-based Children’s Mercy Hospital.

“My role is to provide business value through the use of technology,” he tells FierceHealthIT. “How can I improve the physicians’ lives? How can I help the organization generate more revenue while creating a better experience for everyone who enters the building?”

To that end, Chou says, CIOs must be willing to relinquish control of tasks pertaining to areas such as infrastructure and security, and put more faith in managing relationships with service partners who can handle the heavy lifting for such efforts.

“Traditionally, CIOs like to have a lot of control,” he says. “It’s really about letting go of some of the control areas and working smarter, not harder, utilizing partners a little bit better and really letting the experts run those commodity like services.”

In this interview, Chou, who has previously served in executive IT positions at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and AHMC Healthcare, also discusses the similarities and differences between provider organizations domestic and abroad, the state of telemedicine and his near-term priorities for Children’s Mercy.

FHIT: As someone who has served in an executive capacity at several provider institutions, including internationally, talk about the challenges associated with going to a new organization. What are the similarities and differences?

David Chou: Everyone is trying to solve the same kinds of problems, whether it’s becoming a data-driven organization, working on legacy infrastructure, or helping the organization move to a value-based care model--everyone is trying to figure out how to play that game.

Most organizations are doing some sort of infrastructure upgrade or refresh just to be able to adapt to the expectations of the users and where the industry is headed. In the past, health systems ignored such investments, viewing them as a cost center. Now, IT is being viewed as an investment. It’s a necessity to have this infrastructure in place to improve business.

The main difference between international and U.S. hospital transition is the regulatory challenges. Internationally, there isn't the same criteria that you’d see in the U.S. Things are more consumer focused. The hospital is less like a hospital and more like a hotel, but one that provides medical services. When you have that mentality going in, to where you’re trying to create a five-star service similar to a hotel experience, it’s a different mindset and a different criteria in terms of technology.

FHIT: As rules shift to an emphasis on prioritizing value over volume, do you expect more of a move toward such a model to deliver better quality?

Chou: That’s still to be determined. It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re still pretty far away.

Most healthcare organizations are struggling with questions about how much of this value-based game they are going to play at present. You could potentially hurt yourself from a revenue perspective if you’re doing such a good job of preventing readmissions or promoting wellness that your volume goes down, but you’re still on fee-for-service. There’s certainly a balancing act.

FHIT: What big projects are on the horizon at Children’s Mercy?

Chou: I’m striving to create a digital roadmap; we currently don’t really have a strategy for our organization to go digital.

That said, digital can be a lot of things. It doesn’t have to be technology. It can also mean let’s change our focus so we have that digital mindset. We have a big initiative as an organization to focus on Lean, that’s part of the strategy, as well.

I’m also focusing on analytics. I need us to be an organization that utilizes data to make decisions; really being data driven and having data in near-real time rather than taking a reactive approach.

Once those two things are in place, within a year or two, the focus will shift to creating a positive consumer experience. Our customers are the kids themselves and the family members; how can we create a great experience for the family members since we’re taking care of their loved ones?

FHIT: In Mississippi, telemedicine was a big part of your focus. What are your thoughts on the current state of telemedicine?

Chou: Telemedicine is a great tool. I’m a firm believer in having a virtual care model because, for me, personally, there were times in Mississippi where that was all I used vs. going to a facility to see a doctor, because of convenience. Telemedicine is a great tool for helping to manage chronic illness.   

We have to move toward this model because it’s also what consumers want.

FHIT: What do you think of Medicare’s current efforts to reimburse for telemedicine?

Chou: We have to move toward the fact that telemedicine is similar to, if not on par with, our regular business. We should get reimbursed for it. If a physician decides to use technology to be more efficient, they should get reimbursed for it. The rules have to be adjusted.

FHIT: What is necessary to strike a good balance between pursuing innovation and performing regulatory and day-to-day tasks?

Chou: Let’s look at security as an example. There’s no way I could ever build a security program as rich as any of the major service vendors. So if that’s the case, why am I trying to build that in-house? Why would I not want to utilize partners who are more well-versed in security?

To me, security and foundational core network infrastructure, those are commodities. The focus has to shift for CIOs. Things have to be more business-driven vs. blocking and tackling, i.e., managing core technologies and keeping the lights on.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.