Anne Hargrave-Thomas, CEO of OakLeaf Surgical Hospital and vice president of operations at Surgery Partners, sees technology as a must-have for healthcare operations. A former nurse turned healthcare administrator, she reflects on her recent experience leading OakLeaf through their MEDITECH Expanse implementation and what it takes to achieve success during such large, complex IT projects.
Here’s an excerpt from her conversation on The CereCore Podcast with host Phil Sobol, vice president of business development, about the important role senior leaders play in technology implementation, adoption, and future optimization.
Sobol: It is fantastic when you see someone who has come out of the bedside care space and then crossed over into administration and how that really makes a difference in how operations run on a daily basis.
You recently completed a go-live on MEDITECH Expanse and our organizations: CereCore, OakLeaf, and Surgery Partners started working together early on in that process.
As CEO, you were really involved in that Expanse project from the very beginning during physician advisory committee meetings and rounding. So, what is your leadership philosophy and advice when it comes to encouraging that sort of collaboration and teamwork around a technical implementation, such as an EHR implementation?
Hargrave-Thomas: With projects like this one, they are large. I would say for me, there are numerous leadership styles I used throughout the project. I don’t think that you could say there is one style for a successful project like this. For example, I used the democratic leadership style, which involves finding the right people to start. We started early to encourage participation in that collaboration.
Then, I would also say we moved into transformational. Because a project like this, I moved a lot of people and challenged them to come out of their comfort zones. So, for some, it was a bit of a struggle.
Finally, I think solution-based. We certainly were not without our challenges during this implementation or project. So, problem solving was key and we definitely needed everybody on board with it.
I think the advice I would provide is to plant those seeds early, to get ahead of communication, timelines for the end user — the physicians, your staff, and whoever your end users are going to be.
We started 20 months before our go-live to start talking about this project with our staff, our physicians, and any of our end users. We wanted them to know what it was, how it would improve patient care, what the timeline transition would be like, and who we needed to be involved.
With anything like this, communication is key. So, I would also encourage you to include the naysayers on your teams as well. Because in the end they can be really valuable as they move through the project. Ultimately, we found that we were able to convert them to become staunch supporters and really, it was due to their involvement.
Sobol: Yes, and I assume your approach has been crafted over the years from a lessons learned perspective. Certainly, EHR implementation is quite a journey. I’m sure you drew upon experiences from the past from other large implementations, whether they be technology or not. What stands out to you, around the project that you just went through with Expanse versus some others? What were those lessons that you applied? And then, how did things go? What is your overall assessment?
Hargrave-Thomas: The project went so well. I am so proud of my team here, my MEDITECH team, our staff, and our physicians. Certainly, we could not have done it, if we did not have the right partners.
We had all the right people at all the right times to help us work on this. And the great thing was, I could pick up the phone and call someone at CereCore and get an answer. I could pick up the phone and call Surgery Partners and get an answer. From the top down, between Surgery Partners and CereCore I just cannot thank them enough and say enough great things about the relationship that we developed and how invaluable it was to do this. So, I think that is a big lesson for me.
It really takes a village. This is nothing that can be built in a vacuum. Any EMR, whether it is Expanse or a different product, there is just so much work behind the scenes that goes into it. You just cannot do it in a vacuum. You need resources. You need people. You need help to get it done.
Sobol: What insights or perspectives can you share about what the office of the CEO is thinking about during an IT implementation? And then, what should IT leaders be thinking about from the top-of-mind standpoint to help support you?
Hargrave-Thomas: I think from a CEO perspective, once you have decided on an EMR, be involved. Stay involved. That is key. Your people want to see you involved, and I know for large institutions and organizations, having worked for them, that is a very difficult thing to ask.
But whatever the leadership structure is, whatever the top leader is — be involved and be visible. I think that was the key. They truly understood that I was just as engaged, which kept everyone else engaged. They want to see that flow down.
I think for the CIOs on a project like this, it takes a village. We were never afraid — meaning my IT people and my MEDITECH people — to ask questions. Because there are just so many incredible resources including CereCore and Surgery Partners.
We collaborated, we worked together, we got ahead of the problems, we talked about them, we met. Getting those teams together, those core teams — it is just critical to the success of a project. Because I don’t know what I don't know. Surgery Partners and CereCore brought so much information to the table because this is what they do, and it really helps.
But again, it just goes back to communication and bringing in all the right resources.
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