A 21st century approach

New Jersey Hospitals are Recognized as “Most Wired” Health Care Institutions

Every day, physicians and other frontline workers work to heal men and women, and adults and children. Behind the scenes, though, they’re assisted by a cadre of other professionals who rarely get mentioned: information technology specialists. They often labor in the background, but each year, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) shines the spotlight on them with a report on the nation’s “Most Wired” hospitals.

The recognition is based on “the adoption, implementation, and use of information technology by health care provider organizations.” To 􀂦nd out what they’re doing right, NJBIZ spoke with some Garden State institutions that made the list for 2020.

The RWJBarnabas Health network uses an “integrated” approach with medical and IT professionals, according to Chief Information Officer Robert G. Irwin. “Physicians and nurses are an integral part of our design,” he said. “This way, the clinicians who practice medicine are in front of the process, which ensures that the IT systems address the issues that practicing physicians, nurses and others deal with every day. The technological professionals provide valuable structural and design support, but they’re not leading the way on the effort. This may mean that it takes a little longer to design and deploy a system, but it’s worth the wait for a better product.”

One current initiative is RWJBH’s enterprise-wide move to the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) software system. “We’ve had a series of mergers, which meant that RWJBarnabas Health has had to maintain our own EMR system while integrating and supporting our partners’ legacy systems,” Irwin said.

It’s a big network that currently consists of 11 hospitals, three acute care children’s hospitals, children’s rehab and behavioral health hospitals, specialty centers, and a host of other outpatient centers, imaging and other locations across New Jersey. RWJBH itself was created in a 2016 merger between Barnabas Health and Robert Wood Johnson Health System — and has completed in a series of deals since then. The most recent is a planned integration with New Brunswick’s Saint Peter’s Healthcare System that was announced Sept. 10.

“We already moved over half of our staff to EPIC,” Irwin said. “We can connect with our partners’ legacy systems like Centricity, Allscripts and other EMRs, but it entails a lot of extra work. Standardizing the systems makes the task a lot more e􀂨cient and portable. When all of the physicians and other clinicians are on a standard IT system it’s easier to monitor the success of medical protocols and report back to clinical leaders. Also, no matter where you’re treated in the system, the data is instantly and fully available.”

A Cue from Amazon
Irwin also identi􀂦ed some emerging IT health care trends, like telemedicine. “We were already preparing for telemedicine, but COVID-19 and the resulting social-distancing requirements delivered a turbocharged boost to those efforts,” he explained. “There’s been a signi􀂦cant increase in remote patient visits, and that’s likely to continue even after the pandemic is contained. Basically, medical providers are catching up to Amazon and other online retailers that are already providing online convenience to their consumer segments.”

Internally, he added, “our IT staff quickly became accustomed to Zoom [videoconference] calls. Since the beginning of the pandemic earlier this year, some 300 [members] of RWJBH’s IT staff have gone fully remote, while the entire RWJBarnabas Health system went from about 1,000 remote workers to about 4,000 — mainly administrative — in a matter of weeks. Our IT staff started out with traditional conference calls, but we found there was a ‘personal’ element missing. With videoconferencing it’s easier to share visual and other data. Being able to see your colleagues as well as talk to them
makes a positive difference.”