EHR Replacement

CHIME Fall Forum Interview Series: Robert Napoli, SVP, CIO, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands

Have you ever started a new job with a lengthy to-do list? Robert Napoli, Senior Vice President and CIO at Planned Parenthood Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, can relate. When he first joined the organization three and a half years ago he began a rip and replace of their entire system, and in the end, the only thing that remained was the telecommunication system.  Once he was finished redesigning and replacing, he moved on to strategic initiatives including BI and analytics strategy, mobile health, patient engagement, and more. With experience on both the acute care and ambulatory side, Napoli offers up a unique perspective on the harmonization of clinical data. In this interview, he discusses his organization’s journey through data archival; why integrated solutions are the way to go; and the question on everyone’s mind: what’s happening with the potential defunding of Planned Parenthood? Napoli is a well-seasoned healthcare technologist who’s always aiming to innovate, and we discussed what he’s done and where he’s going.

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

In my experience, I have found that integrated solutions are typically easier to deploy and maintain, provide more predictable and lower TCO, and offer better support for overall organizational workflows.

So long as the data exists, we have a repository that is easily reference-able and accessible.

We ripped out the entire network, redesigned it, upgraded the equipment, installed wireless for the first time, replaced email and moved services to the Cloud.

Given the political landscape and the potential for defunding, we’re looking at ways coalesce those services, perform consolidation, and expand the expertise that some of the individual affiliates have to a broader, more national effort.

There’s hardly a CHIME event that I don’t come back with something that I can either implement or use in my organization.

We were recognized by CIO Magazine IDG for successfully launching the federation’s first mobile health app. This service virtually extends our medical expertise and allows patients either through a smartphone or computer, to have a real-time visit through a secure video consultation system.

Campbell: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Can you provide a little bit of background about yourself and about your organization?

Napoli: Sure. I’m the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. We’re the affiliate that is based in Seattle and operate health centers in Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Idaho and Western Washington. We have ambulatory clinics in each of those states, providing both primary and reproductive care for men and women. I’ve been in this position for a little over three and a half years now. Prior to that, I was the IT Director at a mid-size hospital in Connecticut and before that, held CIO accountability at a similarly sized hospital just north of New York City. In that role, I reported to the CFO and oversaw the strategic and tactical direction of the department as well as the operational management of our technology and information systems.  I was in that position for nearly nine years. So, I have both acute care as well as ambulatory experience.

Campbell: Certainly valuable to be able to understand both of those perspectives, especially given the challenges surrounding the harmonization and coalescence of that data from the ambulatory side to the acute side. Thank you for that background. In terms of applications within the portfolio, can you provide an overview of that? Specifically, the applications that fall under your umbrella in your organization? Could you also elaborate on your enterprise portfolio approach – best of breed, integrated, etc. –  and whether you have plans to consolidate in the future?

Napoli: In my experience, I have found that integrated solutions are typically easier to deploy and maintain, provide more predictable and lower TCO, and offer better support for overall organizational workflows. Certainly, this isn’t the case with all information systems and there have been occasions, throughout the years, when we’ve gone with best of breed solutions – cybersecurity tools being one such example. Also, a slightly different question, although related, is what to do when native functionality in systems isn’t as robust or feature-rich as third-party options. Population health and analytics are good examples of this. In these cases, we have no problem implementing third-party solutions to provide additional functionality and capabilities. But as a rule, I tend to push for integrated technologies when possible.

The application portfolio that my group manages is pretty standard and includes all of our clinical and business systems including the EHR and practice management systems. Shortly after arriving, I initiated a business intelligence and analytics strategy, so we support and manage these systems as well. There are a couple of outliers. For example, there’s a Cloud-based learning management system that we provide some support for, but that is managed primarily by our education and training departments. Outside of that, nearly every other piece of technology or software used by the organization is supported by my group. We’re comprised of the technical folks that support our infrastructure, computers, and telecommunication systems as well as the clinical and business analysts and data management teams. As the organization’s Chief Security Officer, I am also responsible for ensuring our organization’s HIPAA and cybersecurity posture, which our technical team supports with assistance from external consultants.

Campbell: Very good. Let’s touch a bit on data archival strategy. Do you leverage a data archival solution today? I know you mentioned the data warehouse, and I’ve talked with some folks where they’ve used the data warehouse for archival purposes.

Napoli: We do, although we haven’t been able to reach a consensus on a specific archival period. Fortunately, we have the capacity to archive all of our data without limitation, so landing on this hasn’t been a priority.

When I arrived at the organization in July of 2013, we didn’t have a report writer or database administrator, let alone a cohesive data management or analytics strategy. I made the decision very early on that once I had addressed our operational issues by stabilizing systems and redirecting staff, that we would need to focus on being a modern, data-driven organization. One of the first strategic initiatives that I proposed to my executive team and board was a comprehensive business intelligence strategy – it was an easy sell. In hindsight, this project was a heavy lift, and our biggest challenge was transforming an organization that wasn’t accustomed to working with a lot of data to one that now had a ton of data available. To realize full value from our investment and effort, we needed to get our business leaders to a point where they understood the data and owned the business results of using the system. Architecting the system was relatively easy compared to the cultural shifts that needed to take place. My goal from the outset was to provide a self-service data platform – I didn’t want our end users dependent on Information Services to understand our business and to get access to the data that is most meaningful to them. Although this work was extremely difficult at first, it has been a huge success.

Our biggest consideration when architecting the system was whether to build a data warehouse (which is better for archiving) or go with an OLTP approach, which is more suited for real-time business operations and better met my objective of empowering our business leaders. We decided on a hybrid approach that includes a data warehouse precisely for its archival capabilities. Our warehouse includes historical and current data feeds from both internal and external data sources for all our business units. So long as the data exists, we have a repository that is easily referenceable and accessible.

Campbell: One of the things I talked about with several of your peers was requests to access legacy data. The archival whitepaper we published addressed some of the concerns and challenges when there are eDiscovery requests for data. Specifically, when you archive that data, the shape of the data is inherently changed. Another consideration is what the chart that the clinician was presented with at the exact time of inquiry. That could differ from the PDF of the chart that is produced from most archival applications. There’s certainly a lot of metadata considerations. If you could elaborate on how your organization approaches that today and any insights you may have, that would be helpful.

Napoli: Fortunately, we haven’t had many eDiscovery requests in the time that I’ve been at the organization. We implemented our first EHR in 2010, so there isn’t a lot of data that I would describe as “legacy.” Other information systems were minimal prior to this. Our EHR vendor provides an archiving module which helps make our underlying storage environment more efficient, but our most requested data is in our repository where our users can access what they need although It’s not uncommon for us to receive requests for ad-hoc reports or custom dashboards. The requests for eDiscovery information typically occurs between the business unit making the request and our data management team, and I don’t necessarily have a lot of visibility into the actual discussions themselves. My team does a great job ascertaining that the data we’re pulling is correct and appropriate for the need.

Campbell: Shifting gears a bit, tell me a little about what keeps you busy these days. Any major organizational initiatives? Perhaps you could touch on some items you went to CHIME looking to find out more about.

Napoli: Right now, things at my affiliate are extremely stable. As I mentioned earlier, when I first got to the organization there were a ton of operational challenges that we needed to address. We spent the first couple of years ripping out and replacing every piece of core technology in the organization, except for the telecommunications system, which was replaced the year before I got there. We replaced every endpoint, server, and storage device including the infrastructure that housed our EHR and PM systems. We ripped out the entire network, redesigned it, upgraded the equipment, installed wireless for the first time, replaced email and moved services to the Cloud. In the middle of all this, we acquired the Hawaii affiliate and had to merge their systems with ours and bring them up on our EHR, so operationally we had a ton going on. We’ve spent the past couple of years focusing on the more strategic stuff – getting the data warehouse and business intelligence environments up and running, releasing a mobile app, implementing population health and patient engagement platforms, expanding our telehealth services, among other things. We’re at a point now where, not only operationally, but tactically and strategically, we’re in a great spot.

Lately, I’ve been focusing more of my time on assisting Planned Parenthood Federation of America with some newer and broader initiatives, such as cybersecurity and a shared services model. Let me quickly explain our relationship to the federation as this can be confusing. The national office provides our branding and accreditation, but they do not operate any health centers directly, which is the responsibility of one of 56 affiliates. Each affiliate is an independent organization with its own executive team, board of directors, budgets, information systems, and internal decision-making process. Given the political landscape and the potential for defunding, we’re looking at ways to coalesce those services, perform consolidation, and expand the expertise that some of the individual affiliates have to a broader, more national effort. It’s exciting because one of my earliest observations was that affiliates could benefit from centralizing systems and services, but there were internal politics and personal interests that prevented these conversations from moving forward. Although I do not welcome the thought that we could lose a significant part of our revenue, the situation is forcing us to be more agile and lean, and this is a good thing.

Campbell: I imagine sustainability and solvency is top of mind for you, providing value added services to create revenue generation in creative ways, and as you mentioned, finding economies of scale, and getting more operationally efficient because you need to. Tell me a bit about data sharing that may occur from a regional level to a national level.

Napoli: That’s one of the areas we’re evaluating. We decided to build our own data warehouse because there weren’t any viable options available through the national office or another affiliate. During the requirements gathering phase of this work, we heard anecdotally from many of our business leaders who expressed a desire to benchmark our measures against other affiliates or even those of other organizations. We’ve recently partnered with OCHIN, Inc. located in Portland, for our EHR template customizations and they offer an extremely robust real-time healthcare-specific data aggregation tool called Acuere that would provide this benchmarking. We’re impressed with Acura’s capabilities and are moving forward with a subscription. However, its ultimate usefulness and value are dependent on our end user adoption and whether other affiliates see the value in a data aggregation tool and participate in the program.

Campbell: Do you leverage any health information exchange technology? Or have you evaluated that? I know with some groups, it makes it easier if there are other affiliates that need to connect, to move to that hub and spoke model. An alternative is asynchronous requests where you web services are leveraged to broadcast out to other affiliates, ‘hey do you have any data that I care about,’ and that request is fulfilled.

Napoli: We don’t. We do share data with OneHealthPort, which is the Washington State HIE, so the interfaces and configuration necessary to exchange that data are in place. However, this is a state requirement if you see Medicaid patients and there isn’t much of a business case for participating without this mandate. There is, however, a huge business need to share patient data across the federation since most patients don’t realize that our affiliates (even those that are near one another) are independent, stand-alone organizations with separate EHRs, unique patient identifiers and completely closed data systems. Our patients are often surprised that their medical record is not universally accessible in all our health centers since we present a unified brand.

The aforementioned OCHIN has a potential solution to this that, although not an overnight fix, provides what I believe is the best opportunity for coalescing our disparate EHRs into a truly portable patient record. I’ll be working closely with them over the next few months as we explore this further.

Campbell: I wanted to get your thoughts on CHIME. I talked to Chuck Christian, VP at  Indiana HIE –  one of the founding members of CHIME – and he just raved about how refreshing it is to be amongst your peers. There is a lot of noise at the HIMSS conference whereas the CHIME forum is much more focused. At CHIME, you’re talking about the things that are meaningful to you and given the multitude of issues and responsibilities that come with being a healthcare CIO, it’s seemingly invaluable. I’ll give you another perspective you may have read in one of our earlier interviews, that was extremely cogent advice, from Dr. R Hal Baker at Wellspan. He mentioned the currency of a healthcare leader is measured in attention units. You want ambitiously desire to accomplish a great deal of initiatives, but your primary job as a CIO is to ensure extraordinary care to the patient population you serve. There’s so many ways where you can get distracted or lose your focus. Without me rambling on too much I’d like to hear your perspective on what CHIME means to you and the value you get out of it?

Napoli: I would agree that there’s a lot of noise out there, especially at the HIMSS Conference, just because of the size and scope of it. In many respects, I find it overwhelming even though I’m a proud member of HIMSS, hold CPHIMS certification, and serve on the HIMSS Innovation Committee. CHIME is an association that I value, and the annual conference is one that I look forward to for a couple of reasons. For starters, there are so many people over the years that I’ve connected with and met through CHIME. Chuck Christian, for example, was one of my faculty at the CHIME CIO Bootcamp that I attended several years back. Having the opportunity to reconnect with people who you invariably meet over the years is vital. Additionally, the content of the program is extremely relevant, and it’s engaging and useful. There’s hardly a CHIME event that I don’t come back with something that I can either implement or use in my organization. I sit on the CHCIO Exam Review Panel and recently agreed to serve as a CHIME Ambassador – these are testaments to the value I place on my membership.

Campbell: That’s great. Certainly, when you get so much out of an organization it’s great to hear that you pay it forward and give back to it as well. Any closing thoughts that you may have? The readership for healthIT & mHealth is primarily health entrepreneurs or digital health startups and in past interviews I’ve tried to inquire to the interviewees about advice they may have for folks in that space or what’s on the mind of your organization.  You mentioned patient engagement, and it’s a crowded space with a lot of apps offered in that area, but who’s moving the needle in a meaningful way? Any parting insights you’d like to leave our audience with?

Napoli: Mobile health is a personal interest of mine. After all these years, I still consider myself a technologist at heart. I helped develop one of the first medical transcription and dictation systems in the early 90’s and still like architecting systems and solutions as time allows. In 2015, we were recognized by CIO Magazine IDG for successfully launching the federation’s first mobile health app. This service virtually extends our medical expertise and allows patients either through a smartphone or computer, to have a real-time visit through a secure video consultation system. I also recently designed a mobile health app that I’m hoping to deploy nationally to all affiliates. It’s an app that patients can use to find our health centers, book appointments, connect and communicate with us. I’ve provided our national office with the design documentation, so that’s something to look for in the future.

It’s an extremely exciting time to be in Health IT. The more progressive organizations understood long ago the value that technologies such as big data, mobility, social media and the Cloud brought to the business. Increasing numbers of CIOs are now viewed as business drivers as opposed to the business enablers or operators of old. In my opinion, the real innovation is happening around technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous systems among others, which have the potential to greatly improve patient outcomes. The work around cancer genomics is especially encouraging. We’re not quite there yet, but I believe that we are on the cusp of some significant breakthroughs.

Campbell: I appreciate your perspective. It sounds like a lot of innovation is occurring and that’s something our readers will certainly be interested in.