Healthcare seeks IT experts to help embrace change
Few fields are growing as much, hiring as quickly or changing as dramatically as healthcare IT
"When it comes to healthcare, IT is where it's at!" – Dr Bharat Rao, Siemens Healthcare
By Bethany Lyttle
Hospitals, insurance companies, clinics, labs and instrumentation corporations agree: IT is the fastest-growing sector in healthcare.
Following the lead of the financial and retail sectors, healthcare is eager to improve and expand IT end-user experiences, promote customer autonomy, ensure privacy and security, integrate a wide assortment of currently disparate systems and implement safe storage solutions.
What distinguishes healthcare IT from other fields is its super-rapid rate of change. The need to accommodate an array of state, federal and international regulations, many of them with looming deadlines, means these changes and upgrades need to happen now.
A lot to do
For example, the tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11) coding system, a highly complex system maintained by the World Health Organization, will be released in 2012 or 2013. It will require crucial adjustments in software.
And Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) must be implemented in 85 percent of all U.S. hospitals and clinics by 2015. In short, work in healthcare IT has rarely been so plentiful.
As Peter Waegemann sees it
Peter Waegemann, VP of the mHealth Initiative, founded the Medical Records Institute (MRI, Boston, MA) and served as its CEO for twenty-seven years. He notes that IT people with advanced skills are needed to develop and refine EMRs and associated electronic healthcare tools. One example: artificial intelligence skills are needed for eCare Online, "a powerful resource designed to assist healthcare pros with a wide range of everyday administrative tasks."
But this is just a part of it, Waegemann explains. "There's a large need for application development for mobile devices. And of course coding and financial analytics are other areas that are ready for new hires."
He also mentions smaller but equally compelling areas like healthcare business intelligence and enterprise management. "These are used to analyze and create at the same time, to get the meaning behind the data," he says. And implied in all these changes is a tremendous demand for privacy and security specialists.
Virginia Haughey at ECRI Institute: the important positive impact
Its wide range of opportunity is one reason why healthcare IT can be a good career move. Another is the positive impact it has on the lives of others. Whether the work is done on a hospital campus, in a corporate environment, for an insurer or for an independent nonprofit, efforts are directed at improving the quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of patient care.
Virginia Haughey is an application development manager at ECRI Institute (Plymouth Meeting, PA), a nonprofit research organization. She oversees IT infrastructure and development for the group that evaluates the performance and safety of medical devices. She's happy that her work has an explicit benefit to patients, and enjoys working directly with her team.
"Healthcare is a very collaborative environment and you work with people from all over the world," she says. "Working here is like working at a little U.N."
Gopi Ganeshan: security and systems integration at ECRI
Gopi Ganeshan works in application development and support, project management and team management, and is also a liaison with the business units, consultants and vendors at ECRI Institute.
Ganeshan is currently the IT development manager. His team is responsible for design, development and support of the institute's patient safety organization reporting system, healthcare IT hazard manager, customer relationship management system and customer account management system, all used by both internal business units and ECRI Institute members. He's also responsible for communication with the business units and management of consultants.
He started his career at ECRI Institute as a key application developer for a hospital equipment control system in 2003. Before that he worked as a consultant for various multinational companies, experience that he credits with easing his transition from Bangalore, India to life in the U.S. "I learned what to expect and how to constantly adapt."
Ganeshan has a 1988 diploma in mechanical engineering from S.J. Government Polytechnic (Bangalore, India) and a 1992 BSME from the R.V. College of Engineering in Bangalore. He is PMP and PMI certified.
What is it that so appeals to Ganeshan, whose credentials are in ME, about a career in healthcare IT? "Knowing that the systems and solutions we develop contribute directly to the betterment of patient care is huge for me," he says. "I have a personal connection to what I do. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of this work, and for people in the healthcare field, adapting technological advances offers genuine solutions."
Centralizing data for analysis and developing and ensuring data security are the next big challenges, he notes. "Integrating systems so they can talk to each other, improving efficiency, and solving problems while focusing on data security and privacy are just the beginning," he says.
Dr Bharat Rao of Siemens Healthcare: using data to aid diagnosis
Bharat Rao, PhD is senior director and head of the knowledge solutions group in the health services business unit of Siemens Healthcare (Malvern, PA). Siemens combines state-of-the-art imaging, laboratory diagnostics and IT solutions to achieve earlier prevention and more specific diagnoses to enhance patient care.
In 2005 Rao was named Siemens inventor of the year for developing the Reliable Extraction and Meaningful Inference from Non-structured Data (REMIND) platform. REMIND extracts and combines patient information from multiple data sources and combines the extracted data with learned medical-domain knowledge. The platform powers Siemens' Soarian Quality Measures application, which extracts quality measures from electronic patient records.
The main purpose of the platform is to integrate medical knowledge and patient data to arrive at answers to clinical questions about the patient. In commercially deployed apps, REMIND combines medical knowledge with demographics, billing, progress notes, discharge summaries and lab, pharmacy, radiology and other patient data to answer clinical questions about quality of care.
"When you get an MRI, X-ray or CT scan, the radiologist and physician review it," Rao explains. "We develop software that uses data to flag suspicious regions. Of course the medical doctor does the actual diagnosis, but we provide highly sophisticated tools for the doctor to use."
The approach helps medical pros deliver high-quality care while keeping costs down. It also allows healthcare facilities to satisfy the guidelines and standards required to qualify for some of the billions of federal dollars allocated for instituting EMRs.
Rao has a 1985 BTech in EE from the Indian Institute of Technology (Madras, India) and a 1989 MS and 1993 PhD in electrical and computer engineering with an emphasis in machine learning from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). After graduation he joined Siemens' corporate research group, the company's think tank in Princeton, NJ. In 1995 he was promoted to head up a data-mining group.
His first project in healthcare was with the Magee-Women's Hospital (Pittsburgh, PA). "The project took three years and I became very passionate about finding ways to combine data and medical knowledge for risk adjustment and assessment," he says.
Responsible for a worldwide team with more than seventy members, Rao concentrates on data mining and computer-aided diagnosis. "For the last seventeen years I've worked on how to use data to impact healthcare," he says. "The knowledge that the work you do really impacts lives is very motivating.
"The truth is that when it comes to healthcare, IT is where it's at," Rao concludes. "We're getting really good at generating data but there's going to be a shift. What doctors need now are the tools to manage that data, and IT is the glue that can make that happen. We're talking about mobile devices, the Cloud, fast access, limitless delivery. IT is both leading and driving a revolution."
Rao's father is a medical doctor. "He embraced huge challenges, both personally and professionally," Rao says. "Whatever steps forward he could take, he would take, no matter how great or small his resources were at the time. Now I see what I'm doing as coming from him."
Rao travels a lot for his job. "Siemens is working on cancer research in China and I've also been to our HQ in Germany. I meet with the team in India and I travel all around the U.S. My work has allowed me to explore healthcare challenges all over the world," he says.
Carlos Polania: ensuring systems performance at Medtronic
Carlos Polania is principal tech support analyst in the spinal division (Memphis, TN) of Medtronic, a global leader in today's spinal devices market. Polania is responsible for the continuous performance of computer systems in three buildings at the distribution center in Memphis. He also supports local IT personnel in Newark, NJ and Mira Loma, CA with imaging installations, configuration software, printers, scanners, cameras, wireless devices and any peripherals that connect to the Medtronic network.
"It's a challenging role," Polania says. "Resolving issues that benefit the business, working with vendors and researching resources is just the beginning.
"For example, we're currently at work on the W-7 rollout and Microsoft Windows Office 2010 upgrade. Our challenge is to ensure that vendors and employees stay on the improvement campaign, acquiring new and compatible hardware to comply with the demands of the business."
Polania came to the U.S. from Colombia in 1988 and moved into IT eighteen months later while working as a manufacturing manager. "The company decided to implement a modern computer system and I volunteered to be the project leader, coordinate the installations and serve as trainer for the new system," he explains.
He aced the systems admin job, moved to a multinational company and worked for the IT departments of three third-party logistics companies: Manufacturer's Services Limited, Flextronics and Menlo Worldwide, all in Memphis, TN. By this time the focus was Y2K, and "This was total immersion!" he says. "The postponement strategies, the 'just in time' inventory controls and the constant planning and continuous improvement offered me a great education, not just in IT but in the logistics and manufacturing fields."
In 2008 Polania joined Medtronic as principal support analyst. The company was putting in a new Memphis distribution center and the job involved ERPs, WMS, SAP, RFID and wireless technology. "I thought to myself, "This is me!" he says.
Polania has a 1988 BBA from Universidad Libre (Cali, Colombia) and a 2011 MBA from Christian Brothers University (Memphis, TN). He's currently pursuing his PMP certification and studying IT security on the way to acquiring a Certified Information System Auditor (CISA) accreditation. "My goal is to participate on an international team for Medtronic implementation around the world," he says.
"We have to be 100 percent quality-oriented because everything we do is to benefit the human being. Our customers' lives depend on this; you have to be totally conscious at all times that your choices are touching human lives."
Polania says that being bilingual has been an asset to his professional development. "I'm always marketing my diversity. I am very proud of where I'm from and I want to demonstrate that Colombians are here to do the right thing," he says. He's a member of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs and, in his spare time, a soccer coach.
Cristine C. Kao: energy & expertise at Carestream Health
Cristine Kao is global marketing manager in the healthcare information solutions business of Carestream Health (Rochester, NY); she works remotely from her home in Chicago, IL. "Since half my team is global I can spend time with the European R&D team in the mornings and the rest of my time with colleagues in Rochester," she says.
Carestream Health is a global imaging and healthcare IT company. Its equipment and software solutions help customers optimize their medical imaging departments. Kao explains, "We're dealing with a global market so best practices vary place to place.
"I work closely with our technical teams to try to differentiate what we offer for markets beyond the U.S. We have about twenty-five percent market share in Europe, and we're growing to double digits in other emerging markets. There are governments and countries that are investing heavily in healthcare IT and my goal is to understand what the needs are."
In 2001 Kao graduated from the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada) with a BS with business and biochemistry options. "The degree had an interesting mix of business and science courses," she explains. "One unique aspect was a workshop where we analyzed technologies and evaluated their potential. Then we would discuss potential new software or designs or market segmentations to come up with a new business proposal."
A co-op job at Waterloo took her to GE Healthcare (Barrington, IL) and she stayed eight years. "I was in sales for digital radiology when the market was just starting to adopt the technology. The system and process design aspects of the job were very attractive to me."
GE's commercial leadership program showed her ways to translate an academic education into real-world results. In 2007 GE put her in charge of its North America channel development and product team.
Two years later Kao joined Phreesia, an entrepreneurial company that automated patient check-in workflow in doctors' offices. She helped the company start up field sales and an operations team.
In 2011 she moved to Carestream to lead global marketing strategies for the healthcare information solutions and digital medical solutions division.
"I am Chinese Canadian, so of course my parents wanted me to be take up a profession like a doctor or a lawyer," she says with a smile. "But I had no interest in either, and healthcare IT has turned out to be a great fit for me. I am applying what I've learned and continue to grow.
"With ten years' experience in healthcare IT I am considered a veteran. If you're energetic and willing you can do very well!"
Oko Swai ensures and improves safety at Mayo Clinic
Senior analyst programmer Oko Swai is constantly pursuing, then programming, solutions that address the needs of the community at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN). He's part of a team of six programmers who support Mayo safety, employee health and recovery claims.
His primary client is Mayo Safety and his main responsibilities are to develop, maintain and support Web-based apps used by Mayo in its day-to-day ops. The apps include the safety training system that tracks safety compliance training and the Hazmat management system that keeps track of chemical inventories. The job covers all aspects of the software development cycle, from gathering customer requirements to development and support.
Swai both values and enjoys direct communication with the people he supports. "I find it so pleasant to work alongside them, really getting to know their processes, helping them upgrade and watching as they experience the improvements," he says.
He's found the transition to healthcare IT at Mayo Clinic even more rewarding than he anticipated. Previously he'd been a software engineer at IBM, a job he'd landed even before he graduated from Iowa State University with his 2001 BS in computer engineering and 2004 MS in computer science. He made the change because he had been working with very specific technologies on very specific projects, and wanted to broaden his scope. At Mayo he has an opportunity to see a bigger picture.
"Working on an entire project and ensuring that it runs smoothly when we finish is enormously satisfying," he says. "I hadn't expected to do such cutting-edge IT work here, and when I started to work on actual projects I was even more pleasantly surprised. I was given a lot of freedom about which technologies to use to implement solutions."
Looking ahead, Swai anticipates that healthcare IT will grow increasingly mobile with more apps at the enterprise level. "I can easily see the day that our employees will do their training on their smartphones," he says. "We're only steps from integrating computer apps with mobile apps to allow access from any type of device."
He encourages anyone interested in the field to pursue it. He is originally from Tanzania, and notes that aside from the challenges that go with speaking English as a second language, the transition to American healthcare IT has been smooth. "In technology it's man and machine. Skills are all that matter," he says.
Pat Eddy: managing and practicing at St. Jude
Pat Eddy is manager of the project management office in the information sciences department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (Memphis, TN). She says she's as much a practitioner as a manager.
"Requests for projects are received and handled here and must be done in a timely way. We are responsible for tracking those requests and making sure the reports are available to executives.
"We also promote standards and consistency in project management inside and outside the IS department. We're providing resources to help make projects more efficient and we're starting up a social community at the same time. It's all very interactive." Late last fall there were 281 active projects in the IS department.
Eddy sits in front of three computer screens, and a typical day for her means keeping multiple projects going. "We all pitch in and do the work," says Eddy. "We're good analysts, we can do technical process maps and we wear a lot of hats. We set up meetings, do agendas, make sure everyone is in communication, follow up with communication issues and more."
St. Jude went live with its first EMR system about thirteen years ago. "Our fundamentals have been in place for a long time, and now we're working on very nuanced, very difficult things," she says.
But that's what makes the job so satisfying. "You are always building solutions and making connections between things, and this offers a great sense of accomplishment."
Eddy notes that working in healthcare IT is not contingent on a specific educational or professional background. "When I came to St. Jude I didn't even know there was such a thing as a project manager," she says. "I was hired as a scientific programmer and I'd come from twelve years of research experience." She has a 1987 BSCIS from Tulane University (New Orleans, LA), but her undergraduate work was in biology.
From Grace Hopper on, women have been a presence in computing, Eddy notes. "I have never encountered gender problems. Women are good communicators and good analysts and we were always at home in this field."
Many of the people in her department come from backgrounds other than IT. They include MDs, scientists, research technologists, teachers, nurses, finance specialists and pharmacists, as well as programmers, analysts and trainers.
Brooke Gruender: Data-driven decisions at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ
Brooke Gruender is an IT director of application development and manager for provider reimbursement and medical management applications at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ, Newark, NJ). Horizon BCBSNJ is the state's oldest and largest health insurer, and the nonprofit health services corporation aims to lead the way in IT.
"We are aware that healthcare is moving toward a more customer-driven market, and customers need data to make decisions," says Gruender. Her team is made up of analysts and developers, employees and consultants located both onsite and offshore. The team is responsible for delivering cost-effective, reliable technology solutions; through business partnerships, it provides application ownership and stewardship.
Gruender, who has an Hispanic mother, got career and leadership training from the Inroads program. Inroads prepares talented minority youth for leadership roles, and Gruender now mentors Horizon interns in the program herself.
She's a member of the company's Latin American Cultural Organization and has a strong relationship with Horizon's diversity council. She notes that Horizon has many initiatives for promoting diversity within the company, like minority internships, manager development and minority leadership programs.
Gruender has a 1999 BS in business admin with a major in management CS from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a 2006 MBA from St. Peter's College (Jersey City, NJ) that she earned in onsite night courses at Horizon. "The MBA has helped me see the value of Horizon's strategic plan," she says. "Once you understand the magnitude of a plan, you understand your own role better."
She's been with Horizon about nine years. Before that she was a consultant implementing tech solutions and working both in the U.S. and abroad. At Horizon she started as a reporting analyst, went into project management and increased her levels of responsibility in each role.
"Healthcare is at the forefront of everyone's minds right now. I am involved with upgrading systems to align with future needs," she says.
Susan S. Kozik is SVP and CIO at Independence Blue Cross
Independence Blue Cross (Philadelphia, PA) is a health insurer in southeastern Pennsylvania, and Susan S. Kozik is SVP and CIO, responsible for all IT at the company. That covers five functions, she notes: IT strategy, enterprise architecture, operations and services, application portfolios, and new projects that add feature functionality on all devices. She's backed up by a team of 600 employees and contractors.
"I've been in IT for my entire career and I've worked in every role there is," Kozik says with a laugh. When she started in the 1970s IT was a young field, and that gave her many opportunities. "The field was growing wildly so it was looking for people. Once in, it was all about achieving results, and results are gender-, race- and culture-neutral."
Today Kozik counts more than twenty-five years of IT experience in insurance, financial services and energy. Before Independence she was VP and CIO of Direct Energy (Pittsburgh, PA) and before that she spent a year leading the Smart Grid IT transformation program at OGE Energy Corp in Oklahoma. Before OGE she was EVP and CTO at financial services firm TIAA-CREF, leading IT strategy, application portfolio management and ops. She's also held CIO jobs at Cigna, Penn Mutual and Lucent.
"Here's my advice: Ask questions," says Kozik. "Go after people to learn what they do. Being curious and trying to figure out which problems need solving is a great quality. As an executive I am always looking for people who are curious. I don't need order-takers; your value to the company is wanting to know."
Kozik had seventeen jobs in her first eighteen years in IT, and says her opportunities have blossomed as a result. She notes that she often took lateral moves to learn a new business. "Don't focus on the title," she says. "Get sought after by setting aside your ego. In the long run it will make you a much more valuable employee."
Kozik stresses that healthcare is an information-based industry. "This is attractive to IT people because it's so dependent on systems for efficiency. Understand and learn about business, know your customers and be able to talk their language," she says.
Kozik graduated from Bates College (Lewiston, ME) and was the first recipient of the school's distinguished young alumni award. She serves on the corporate advisory board of the Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at the University of Nebraska and on the Bates board of trustees, where she chairs the admissions and financial aid committees.
Grace Mohr: giving voice to info at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Grace Mohr is manager of the network and voice services area of systems ops at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (Detroit, MI), the largest nonprofit insurer in the state. She concentrates on data networking, voice networking, contact-center voice technologies, and some of the supporting architecture around automated call distribution. From an operations standpoint she ensures that the network is up and voice and data are always available to the company.
"I also have to make sure all our contact centers are up, and there are more than a hundred of them in various business lines," she says. "My team of thirty to forty people provides support for about a hundred centers."
Another part of the job is supporting ongoing projects, and security is a constant focus. "Throughout, our greatest challenge is finding ways to be HIPAA/PHI compliant and still keep features and functionality that help the company do business better," she says.
Mohr's father was a physician, and as a student she was interested in medicine, "But he advised me to take a different career route," she says. Discussing this with her high school guidance counselor, Mohr, a first-generation Filipino, was introduced to Academically Interested Minds (AIM), a pre-college summer program for minorities at Kettering University (Flint, MI).
Soon after, Kettering offered her a spot at the school. Her love for math made that her first focus, but then she began to see how more hands-on technical degrees could really open career doors.
Mohr confesses that her internship at General Motors-Powertrain (Toledo, OH) did not thrill her, but the exposure to CAD/CAM that she got there did. "The capabilities really excited me, and that's when I fell in love with IT."
In 1991 she graduated with a BS in materials science and engineering and moved into a fulltime position with GM. Then she took a job at CNA Insurance (Chicago, IL) which put her directly into IT. At the same time she attended the University of Illinois to earn a 1994 MBA with a specialty in IS. "I loved combining my logical side with a business sense."
Later she was a consultant at AT&T in Ann Arbor, MI, working in project management.
From there she moved to the Blue Care Network of Michigan (Grand Rapids, MI), working in the business process improvement PMO. In 2004 she joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
"My advice to anybody interested in healthcare or insurance is to round out your technical expertise with business training," says Mohr. "It's crucial to be able to speak more than one professional language."
She also encourages IT specialists to remember that nothing replaces the person-to-person aspect of doing business. "Data mining points you in the right direction, but you have to couple that with true observation. Data identifies opportunities and trends but interpretations are nothing without human insight," she insists.
Mohr is a co-leader for the BCBSM diversity advisory council and diversity champion for that group as well. She credits her Filipino values and traditional upbringing for much of her success. "I've coupled this with my American values and it helps me relate to the world on more than one level," she concludes.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN HEALTHCARE IT
See websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan
(Detroit, MI) www.bcbsm.com
|Healthcare insurance in Michigan
|Carestream Health (Rochester, NY)
|Medical, dental and molecular imaging
and healthcare IT
|ECRI Institute (Plymouth Meeting, PA)
||Nonprofit research on safety, quality and cost effectiveness of patient care
|Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Newark, NJ) www.horizonblue.com
||Healthcare insurance for New Jersey
|Independence Blue Cross (Philadelphia, PA)
|Healthcare insurance for southeastern
|Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN)
|Integrated, nonprofit group healthcare provider
|Medtronic Spinal & Biologics (Memphis, TN)
|Medical devices for the spine
|Siemens Healthcare (Malvern, PA)
|Medical imaging, medical IT and lab
|St. Jude Research Hospital for Children
(Memphis, TN) www.stjude.org
|Research and treatment of cancer and other life-threatening diseases in children
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