Patricia Whelan, MHA, CIO: Leading Shield's E-strategy Charge

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Armed with a master’s degree in health administration from Ohio State, Patricia Whelan, MHA, went to work for Ohio State Medical Center in 1993. In 1997, she completed her two-year postgraduate fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and took a position as business systems consultant in the department of radiology.

Patricia Whelan, MHA

Nine years later, having served as MGH director of informatics, she accepted a position with outpatient imaging leader Shields Healthcare Group and currently serves as that organization’s CIO. Shields operates 28 MRI centers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and three radiation-therapy centers in Massachusetts. Whelan is spearheading a major e-strategy initiative for the company, and she spoke candidly with about the role of informatics in the outpatient imaging business and the new demands on the CIO. How important is business intelligence in the current outpatient imaging market, and what role are you playing, as Shields’ CIO, in gathering this?

Whelan: The role has changed quite a bit. Five, six, or seven years ago, we were all working very hard just to support the core functions of the business. With the introduction of virtualization and other groundbreaking technologies, CIOs have been able to transition focus from just keeping everything running and developing the IT road map to thinking more creatively about how to define the framework for data-driven business decisions. As such, business intelligence has become a strategic imperative in outpatient imaging. In particular, it’s encouraging all of us at the senior-management level to think about what data we have, what data we need to compile, and what data aren’t meaningful.

In many ways, the CIO has become the chief architect in determining the framework to make data-driven decisions, and people interpret your role differently. You now sit at the table driving the business through advancements in technology, instead of fulfilling a support role. It has been a very different ride because of that change.

ImagingBiz: Can you describe the interface between C-level executives in devising a business-intelligence strategy and the mechanisms in place for communications among executives on this subject?

Whelan: That’s another C word: collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. I think there is more dialogue between the CIO and all CxOs in a company than ever before. Whether you are talking about clinical or fiscal integration driving the CIO conversation with the CxO, or even making improvements in tracking data for clinical outcomes tying the COO and the CIO, it’s made the job and the career much more rewarding, but also, again, transitions the CIO to being a true stakeholder in the company, not fulfilling a support function anymore.

One of the biggest advances we’ve had is the partnership between marketing and sales and IT: being able to work on a couple of new projects where we are actually able to share market trends, market research, and, in particular, market share with our regional managers and sales staff. It’s made a huge impact even in terms of the overall management structure of the company, because the dialogue is happening in different ways. We also do a fair amount of performance charting, which is also something relatively new. We are moving out of the retrospective analysis and into the area of projecting and forecasting. The vision and the thinking are changing because of the way we are able to present the information.

One example that comes to mind that is relatively simple is market share. Shields has roughly 28 locations in the state of Massachusetts. Taking the state, breaking it down into regions, and being able to report based on region and actual market penetration—and having those figures available to the senior-level staff—is allowing them to devise and develop strategies based on where they see advantages and disadvantages in the market. Before, we didn’t tabulate, look at, or even present those data in that way, and it has sparked a whole new approach to how we think about our community-based business. How are you leveraging existing software tools to craft an executive dashboard from disparate information systems? Are you writing any software?

Whelan: That’s been a challenge for a long, long time. It’s been very frustrating to me that from patient visit all the way through paid service, data still pass to more than 12 systems.