Project Management Institute

All Systems Go

Deanna Wise, PMP, executive vice president, CIO, Dignity Health, San Francisco, California, USA





Deanna Wise, PMP, executive vice president, CIO, Dignity Health, San Francisco, California, USA

At Dignity Health—the fifth-largest healthcare provider in the United States—Deanna Wise doesn't just oversee the technology needs of more than 60,000 healthcare professionals and their patients. She's also managing a five-year, US$1.83 billion rollout of an electronic health record (EHR) system as stipulated by the U.S. Affordable Care Act. The system needs to sync 40 hospitals and hundreds more ancillary care sites across 20 states—all by mid-2016.

That's good for patient care, because in the long run, the EHR system will lead to greater efficiency, says Ms. Wise. But it's also a massive undertaking for her and the 1,100 IT professionals she manages.

How did you translate a high-level set of government criteria to an actual EHR implementation project?

Dignity Health started implementing an EHR in 2001, before Meaningful Use, the U.S. government incentive for implementing an EHR meeting certain criteria. But Meaningful Use accelerated the journey.

“Surround yourself with a great staff that believes in your philosophy. You can't be in all places at all times, so you hire people you can trust, believe in the organization's mission, drive for excellence and always look for innovative ways to do things.”

Prior to Meaningful Use, Dignity Health already had eight hospitals running very successfully on an EHR software product. So the practical implementation boiled down to assessing the most cost-effective and best systems out there. It's always about gathering your requirements and understanding your needs, and then looking for the appropriate tool set, so it's no different if you're choosing a financial system or a clinical system.

How has this project differed from smaller-scale IT projects you've overseen?

For me, there's no difference between deploying a new payroll system or a US$1.83 billion health records system—it's the exact same steps. It's about understanding the needs of the customers—in this case the Dignity hospitals—and finding the system that aligns with that, and then you adjust the processes during deployment. You just scale it differently.

One thing that is unique about this is the invasive aspect of the changes you're implementing. For example, the nurses are coming from a paper environment, where they're maybe writing notes on paper and putting them into their pockets, and then going back to their desks to do clinical documentation. Now they're doing that documentation in each room. The electronic system is changing the processes and dynamics of their job. So it's important that you really train and get feedback from all stakeholders prior to building the system out, that you align very tightly with the business strategy so you can improve the process. We have to make sure that, as we deploy the system, we're still facilitating the work that people do.

How do you manage stakeholder expectations on a project of this size?

I think the most critical pieces of managing expectations are transparency, being honest and being direct. My other golden rule is “under-commit and over-deliver.” You have to prepare people running the business: “If you make this choice, here are the impacts of that.” But you also give them good choices so a good business decision can be made. IT isn't there to run the business—we're there to facilitate good business decisions.

Did the scope of this rollout require you to think about project management talent differently?

It really didn't. My basis for everything is to hire really good people. I've surrounded myself with a team that follows my philosophy and style, which is to put people first. You have to identify talent that understands the details and the mechanics and are really good listeners, because those employees bring about good outcomes. They understand the customer service side.


Best professional or career advice you've gotten:

Always ask yourself, “What's the right thing to do?”

What's your favorite book?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

How do you turn off the project management part of your brain?

You don't. Ever.

What's the next big technology that's going to transform the healthcare industry?

There's a lot of technological innovation happening in patient care. For example, one exciting device is called Propeller Health. It's a chip that goes in an asthma inhaler [and syncs with an app on a smartphone]. It tracks the time of day a person uses an inhaler, maps the location where he or she used it, and over time, it can really help the patient with asthma take control and understand what it is that's prompting some of his or her issues. The ways we're leveraging personal devices—that's really pushing healthcare forward right now. PM

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