Beyond Buzzwords

It can be tempting to implement every hot new technology, but at University Health System, William Phillips is ensuring each solution actually improves patient care and fulfills company strategy

William Phillips, SVP & CIO, University Health System, San Antonio, TX, Career Advice: “I steal the Army’s slogan: ‘It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.’ Someone who wants to get into this industry has to realize the high expectations and demands. Adapt, be proactive, but also be highly reactive.”

The dramatically changing world of health care doesn’t faze William Phillips. He’s witnessed every evolution firsthand during his 30-year career in health-care information technology. Phillips started in operations and security administration and is now senior vice president and CIO at University Health System. His job is to ensure that new solutions match strategic needs and improve patient care at the third-largest public health system in the state of Texas.

What do you see happening right now with technology in health care?

William Phillips: The industry revolves around cycles of big words. The latest buzz now is big data and analytics. If an organization is not using data to improve the health of patients and their outcomes, then the industry is going down the wrong path.

How does an organization go down the right track?

Phillips: There’s a new technology coming out almost daily. We can’t buy everything. We have to have a strategic plan and a long-range plan. We don’t buy any product that won’t integrate into our electronic medical record. Integration is critical as our goal is to deliver all diagnostic information available to the provider in the EMR—one-stop shopping.

What else is trending in health-care IT? 

Phillips: It’s telehealth. I saw this coming in 2007 and realized that the day would come when the patient will have to take responsibility for his or her own health care. We’re seeing that materialize. Telehealth has grown 237 percent in five years. That’s astronomical in our industry, and we’re expecting it to go up six-fold in the next three years.

Who will this help most?

Phillips: Diabetics, for example, can enter their levels online and have their treatment monitored remotely. It will help patients who have mobility issues, but it will also be huge for convenience. What if you had surgery and aren’t mobile? If you start to see an infection, you can schedule an appointment for the provider to view your wound on a monitor and have the provider e-prescribe medication in minutes—without getting out of bed.

So much is happening so quickly. How does a CIO evaluate everything? 

Phillips: New advancements need to actually match the strategic needs of your organization.

How does that play out at University Health System? 

Phillips: We look at products that will produce outcomes that improve patient care, workflow, and process. In IT, we follow an evolution framework and our guiding principles to make sure everything we implement helps us deliver care, improve outcomes, attract patients, and exceed their expectations. We also need to eliminate waste and increase efficiency. We tie all that back to the long-range plan, the hospital’s strategic plan, and the IT plan to make sure everything aligns.

Do you have an example?

Phillips: We were looking for a way to reduce medical identity theft and started researching biometric technologies, including fingerprint authentication. We found, however, that issues can arise if hands aren’t clean. We wanted a solution that could authenticate people with no problems and discovered a vein scanning solution that uses ultrasound technology to read veins in the hand for 100 percent positive identification. We now scan all patients when they present to one of our facilities.

What emerging technologies have the most potential?

Phillips: I mentioned the buzzwords of big data and analytics. There are a lot of new products coming up that are taking electronic medical record data and telling a story with it. These products can show patients at risk for long stays and readmission. They’re able to cull data and deliver information in quick and accessible ways. An EMR is a wealth of data, but you have to translate that data and put it in the hands of physicians who can then provide the right kind of care. 

What has technology been unable to solve in the health-care environment?

Phillips: We’re hitting caregivers with so much technology so fast. It’s just going crazy, and I think the industry is losing sight of something. We have to apply basic workflow concepts. You can’t just keep throwing more and more technology at issues and problems. You have to adopt a matching workflow so that technology supports appropriate workflow instead of determining it.

Are there ways you can address that concern as a CIO?

Phillips: I sit on several advisory boards and hold a gubernatorial appointment to the board for the Texas Health Services

Authority. I’d urge all CIOs to take advantage of these opportunities because they are the venues for change. I am able to influence vendors’ direction and raise issues like the need to reduce keystrokes or simplify copy and paste.

How have you seen the role of the CIO change in recent years?

Phillips: The CIO position has changed drastically just in the last few years alone. The CIO used to be the IT guy, but now we’ve advanced so far that CIOs play in almost all operations areas. You’re seeing the CIO evolve from the IT guy in the corner to someone who plays a huge role in implementing every major project a health system undertakes.

What does that mean for organizations working in this space? 

Phillips: The CIO has to be elevated to a true C-suite position and be in on all strategic decisions within the organization. Otherwise, you’re leaving out an important step in the process. The CIO and his or her team have to imagine, acquire, install, configure, and maintain the systems that move the organization forward to meet its strategic goals.

What are some of your current projects underway at University Health?

Phillips: We adopted electronic records early, so now we’re perfecting our ability to get all the data out. We’re embarking on a data warehouse with strong analytical tools to have one source of truth for our data needs.

With changes coming every day, how do anticipate emerging technologies will impact health care in the coming years?

Phillips: I think social media is going to play into this. It’s just another way we can enhance the delivery of health care. You’ll see more and more tools that allow the patient to take ownership of health care, and that will move into predictive modeling. Remember—our ultimate goal is to keep the patient out of the hospital. We want to use as many tech tools as possible to help us accomplish this goal.