CHIME Interview Series: Sue Schade, Principal , StarBridge Advisors, LLC


Sue Schade, CIO, MBA, LCHIME, FCHIME, FHIMSS Starbridge Advisors, LLC

#HealthITChicks show up and stay fierce, and Sue Schade may just be the epitome of that. A nationally recognized health IT leader, Principal at StarBridge Advisors, LLC, and current interim CIO at Stony Brook Medical Center, Schade has over thirty years of collective health IT management under her belt along with a plethora of awards and recognitions from HIMSS, CHIME, and other leading health IT organizations. Now part of a consulting, coaching and interim management firm, Schade has sage advice to share with other CIOs. In this interview, she talks optimization versus replacement, population health management solutions, how to measure success, and the benefits of knowing your application inventory. Sue Schade is paving the way for women in health IT everywhere.

CHIME Fall CIO Forum provides valuable education programming, tailored specifically to meet the needs of CIOs and other healthcare IT executives. Justin Campbell, of Galen Healthcare Solutions, had the opportunity to attend this year’s forum and interview CIOs from all over the country. Here is the next interview in the series:

Key Insights

My approach, or my philosophy, that I’ve worked with organizations on is when you’re adding new components, you first start with the core vendor: can the core vendor do it today?

Usability and number of clicks is clearly something that we hear over and over from clinicians

The main point with workflow is: do you adopt your workflow to the product or do you adopt the product to your workflow?

Vendors are looking at how they can be more user configurable to adapt to the uniqueness of an organization and their specific workflows.

Just inventorying your application portfolio can be painful. You have a lot more disparate and duplicate applications than you ever realized

I’ll be the first to say that many organizations don’t have something they can pull up and say ‘here’s our inventory.’ They should but they don’t.

Campbell: Tell me a little bit about your background, organizations you’ve worked with, and StarBridge Advisors.

Schade: Let me start with StarBridge Advisors. It’s a new health IT advisory firm that I started in the Fall of last year with two colleagues, David Muntz and Russ Rudish. We provide IT consulting, interim management, and leadership coaching, targeting the C-suite and healthcare organizations around the country. We have a network of seasoned experts and advisors that we are able to bring on engagements depending on particular client needs. I currently serve as the interim CIO at Stony Brook Medicine on Long Island, where I have been since March of this year. We are actively recruiting to fill that position with a permanent CIO.  Prior to that, I served as interim CIO at University Hospitals in Cleveland for over eight months, when I first started down this path of consulting and interim management and left the permanent CIO world. Before I went to Cleveland, I was the CIO at University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers in Ann Arbor for a little over three years. Prior to that I was the CIO at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of the Partners Healthcare System in Boston for almost thirteen years. Take all of that plus the years before that and I have over thirty years in health IT management and a lot of experience in the provider world. I also spent some time working for one of the large consulting firms, Ernst and Young, as a senior manager in their healthcare IT practice, as well as with a startup vendor in the health IT space.

That’s my background. I can tell you the experience when it comes to EHRs is different at every one of those organizations. At Stony Brook Medicine, we’re basically a Cerner shop for our clinicals, both ambulatory and inpatient; we have revenue cycle through them, and the old Siemens product, Invision. At University Hospitals, it was an Allscripts shop for clinicals on the ambulatory and inpatient side, and Cerner Soarian for the revenue cycle. At the University of Michigan, I helped them move the ball towards a total Epic environment as an integrated solution, for inpatient, outpatient, and revenue. At Brigham, we had mostly internally developed systems, which were inherited from a rich history at Brigham of leading the way in the 90s with CPOE. As part of the Partners system, there was a mix of internally developed core systems as well as some vendor products. Prior to my departure at Brigham, we had decided that all of Partners would go onto Epic, and move away from the disparate systems at each of the hospitals. They are just about done at this point, having moved most of their hospitals onto Epic. I’ve worked with the major EHR vendors and certainly have a perspective on the importance of integrated solutions.

Campbell: What an extremely decorated career with a tremendous amount of experience and wisdom gained along the way. Tell me a little bit more about integrated solutions. There is a lot of replacement occurring in the market as folks look to have an integrated system bridging the inpatient and outpatient care setting. What is your view on that? What have you steered organizations to in the past? There’s a lot of opinions between optimizing what you have versus replacing, is the replacement truly worth it?

Schade: I think so! An integrated solution from a core vendor, is optimal. You can argue that core vendors may not be as robust in all areas or specialties,  which is where some may have started from and then built upon. However, at the end of the day you’re dealing with one major vendor that can provide all of those solutions, has a roadmap, and is continuing to build out other modules that integrate into that core system. From a user perspective, there’s one system to learn how to navigate, you have much more seamless workflows, and much better data integration. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.

My approach, or my philosophy, that I’ve used in working with HDOs, is when you’re adding new components, you first start with the core vendor: can the core vendor do it today? Is it on their roadmap? Will they be able to do it, say in the next 12-18 months, or is it not even a thought of theirs? If it’s nowhere today, or not on their roadmap, then you look at a niche vendor that may have that product. If you’re so far ahead of the market in what you’re trying to do that there’s not even a niche vendor that’s looking at it, then you would consider developing it and trying to integrate it into your core system. That’s my philosophy, that’s the approach I will take. Obviously, you may go into organizations, or I may now as an interim CIO, that have a different outpatient system from inpatient, or a different revenue from clinical. You must take into account where an organization is in terms of investment, where they are financially, and where they are in their lifecycle on their contract. It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. I do see a lot more organizations trying to move to an integrated solution.

Campbell: Sure, and if we take integration between the care settings for instance, I know there’s some sunk cost and unique IP that’s baked into the organization, and embedded into the workflows, quite frankly. As such, it’s a big forklift to be able to move that to a new platform. In terms of core EMR and EHR vendors, what is your perspective in how they are addressing population health management —a term that is admittedly very broad and often overused? It’s seemingly a fragmented market. Do you see that solution coming from core EMR vendors or do you think that they’re best suited for the transactional nature of the records they support and it’s going to be an outside vendor perhaps for population health management?

Schade: I think that some of the stronger vendors in this space are probably somewhat niche and not the core vendors, though the core EHR vendors do have offerings. For instance, we are utilizing Cerner’s HealtheIntent product at Stony Brook Medicine for the work we’re doing with what’s called the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP) in the state of New York. There is a potential for that to be used more broadly as our population health platform, but I think it’s still too early to make that determination. Sometimes it’s vendor readiness and it may also be the organization’s readiness. Some of the population health initiatives are probably driven, very much driven, by those parts of the organization such as operations and administration, not IT, and rightly so. People get to a point where they have to make a change and can no longer wait for IT, who may still be consumed by their core EHR implementation. They stay on the lookout for solutions from niche vendors. It hasn’t quite shaken out yet, but considering what you’re fundamentally working with in terms of patient data, it makes sense that it could be driven from your core EHR vendor, if they can keep up with those solutions.

Campbell: Right, that makes a lot of sense. Speaking of the core EHR, I feel like, and maybe you can comment on this, organizations need to treat it more than a transactional system and rather a strategic asset. EHR and EMR optimization should be a continual process following implementation. Perhaps you can touch on optimizations that you’ve participated in. From the discussions we’ve had with healthcare CIOs and leaders, the toughest part seems to be determining ROI. In terms of drivers for optimization – whether it’s usability, workflow efficiency, number of clicks – what were the areas you focused on and how did you measure success?

Schade: I think you hit the big ones. Usability and number of clicks are clearly something that we hear over and over from clinicians, more so for physicians, but I think it’s an issue for our nurses as well. The main point with workflow is: do you adopt your workflow to the product or do you adopt the product to your workflow? I think there’s some happy medium there and what you don’t want to do is a lot of hard-coded customization,  because every time you get a new upgrade from the vendor you’ll have to do all the retro fitting; Organizations are trying to do less of that so that they can work within the base product. Vendors are exploring how they can be more user-configurable to adapt to the uniqueness of an organization and their specific workflows. This is where your CMIO, CNIO, informatics folks, and clinical analysts are critical in partnering with end users to make sure that the solutions that we deploy make it better for them and not worse. You commonly hear that clinicians understand and accept EHRs are here to stay but still acknowledge how cumbersome certain features are. I’ve been involved in different optimization efforts at organizations post-implementation, and I will say we haven’t focused so much on ROI as we have workflow and user satisfaction. You often get into a situation with a big implementation that at a certain point you must get it done and start creating that list of things that are going to be in the next phase of optimization. Once the go-live is complete and you’ve stabilized, you start looking at your growing optimization list. It’s important that you have clear governance and, again, that you have a partnership with your clinicians and IT so that your clinicians, with support from leadership, are driving the high priority changes that are needed in that optimization effort.

Campbell: Right and you hit the nail on the head there. I’m co-authoring a white paper with Jim Boyle, VP of IS at St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare, as they are going through an optimization initiative, and as you mentioned, there must be a partnership between IT/Administration and clinicians. At St. Joe’s Jim mentions they have established dyad relationships between administration and clinician leaders, and as such, there is perspective and vested interest from both sides. I appreciate you sharing that viewpoint.

Schade: One point I also want to highlight about optimization is training. I think the training piece is critical, as you have to connect those two to the extent that for what you do roll out, your users have to be very well trained, they need to know how to use all the functionalities, and they need to know how to use it efficiently. Sometimes when an optimization or a change is requested, when you really look at it, it could be a training issue, in that the users don’t know how to do something or lack awareness into something that is possible within the system. You should have those two tied very tightly together. I’ll use the example without mentioning specifics, but we have a go-live this week at Stony Brook Medicine introducing a couple new major enhancements and modules. Keeping tabs on how it’s going, one of the issues that’s coming up is training: did everyone go through the training that was made available or not? When you have training available, but not mandatory, you start running into issues of, people aren’t sure how to do something, what’s possible, and they might ask for it to be different, but again then it goes back to let’s make sure we have comprehensive and complete training.

Campbell: That’s a truly salient point. Recently, three prominent Boston-area physicians just contributed an opinion piece to WBUR, “Death By A Thousand Clicks”.  They postured that when doctors and nurses turn their backs to patients in order to pay attention to computer screen, it pulls their focus from the “time and undivided attention” required to provide the right care.  Multiple prompts and clicks in an EHR impact patients – and contribute to physician burnout. That said, if providers lack proper training, they may not know of the systems capabilities or have awareness of a more efficient way of accomplishing a task.

Schade: Exactly, do you use Outlook, for example, or what’s the main software you use?

Campbell: Yes, Outlook.

Schade: So people like you and me, who do not use an EHR as the system of record, we’re in Outlook all day for calendar, tasks, and email. Someone may watch over your shoulder as you do something one day and go ‘Oh! Didn’t you know you can do xyz?’ and you go, ‘Oh! No I didn’t!’ and they go ‘Here click on that.’ Suddenly you learn a quicker shortcut or method to accomplish something but in the meantime you’ve been doing it the way you’ve always done it with significantly more clicks and steps. Again, it comes back to training and people understanding what’s possible and how to do things. That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities to make the software work better for our clinicians.

Campbell: I wanted to touch base on one more broad question around application rationalization and consolidation. I’m sure it’s been different from organization to organization, but as CIO, what applications are under your purview outside of the EHR? Have you taken part in a consolidation effort in the past where you may have duplicative functionality brought on by a best of breed approach to system adoption? And did you leverage an application to do that or certain practice? If you can elaborate on your experience with that I think it would be helpful for other organizations who are looking at eliminating the technical debt legacy systems create.

Schade: We had started down that path at Michigan, before I left, so I can’t say that I took it all the way to completion. It was one of the opportunities identified as part of an overall value and margin improvement effort in attempting to reduce costs within the organization. I’ll tell you, just inventorying your application portfolio can be painful. You have a lot more disparate and duplicate applications than you ever realized, but step one is to get your hands around that current state. Let me just say this, application rationalization is something that often goes hand-in-hand with implementation of a new core EHR because you may be implementing a common system where there have been disparate systems at multiple facilities and that common system can replace a lot niche applications. The current state inventory of applications is a critical initial step. I’ll be the first to say that many organizations don’t have something they can pull up and say ‘here’s our inventory.’ They should, but they don’t.

About Sue Schade

Sue Schade, MBA, LCHIME, FCHIME, FHIMSS, is a nationally recognized health IT leader and Principal at StarBridge Advisors providing consulting, coaching and interim management services.

Sue is currently serving as the interim Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Stony Brook Medicine in New York. She was a founding advisor at Next Wave Health Advisors and in 2016 served as the interim CIO at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sue previously served as the CIO for the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers and prior to that as CIO for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Previous experience includes leadership roles at Advocate Health Care in Chicago, Ernst and Young, and a software/outsourcing vendor.

She is active in CHIME and HIMSS, two leading healthcare IT organizations. Sue was named the CHIME-HIMSS John E. Gall, Jr. CIO of the Year in 2014 and holds the following recognitions:

  • “Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT” – Health Data Management, 2016 & 2017.
  • “50 Top Healthcare IT Experts” – Health Data Management, December 2015.
  • “11 Hospital IT Executives You Should Follow on Twitter” – Health Data Management, August 2015.
  • “50 Leaders in Health IT” – Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review, July 2015.
  • “Top 10 Most Influential Healthcare CIOs on Twitter” – Perficient, April 2015.
  • “100 Hospital and Health System CIOs to Know” Becker’s Hospital Review, 2013, 2014, 2015.
  • “10 CIOs You Should Follow on Twitter Today” – FierceCIO, April 2014.
  • “Top 10 Women ‘Powerhouses’ in Health IT“ – Healthcare IT News, April 2013.
  • “8 Influential Women in Health IT“ – Fierce HealthIT, October 2012.

Sue can be found on Twitter at @sgschade and writes a weekly blog called “Health IT Connect” –

About Justin Campbell

Justin is Vice President, Strategy, at Galen Healthcare Solutions. He is responsible for market intelligence, segmentation, business and market development and competitive strategy. Justin has been consulting in Health IT for over 10 years, guiding clients in the implementation, integration, and optimization of clinical systems. He has been on the front lines of system replacement and data migration is passionate about advancing interoperability in healthcare and harnessing analytical insights to realize improvements in patient care. Justin can be found on Twitter at @TJustinCampbell and LinkedIn.

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