Seven years ago, CoxHealth struggled to balance long-term strategic IT goals and projects with everyday IT issues, leading the organization to outsource in an effort to improve its IT operations management.
CoxHealth opted to contract with EHR giant Cerner and has used Cerner ITWorks, the vendor's IT outsourcing model, for the last several years to run its day-to-day IT operations, as well as plan for future strategic development.
The partnership led to overall organizational improvement, as well as a matured IT operation management model, CoxHealth CIO Bruce Robison said. "When Cerner came on board, within a very short period of time we matured," Robison said.
Using Cerner ITWorks
Robison said "white noise," or the "nonimportant, nonurgent projects that creep up in the queue and overwhelm the IT staff and take away from the strategic focus," was one of the challenges CoxHealth experienced before partnering with Cerner ITWorks. CoxHealth is a 992-bed health system serving 25 counties in Missouri.
CoxHealth developed its own tools, changed management approaches, serviced outage controls and governance processes before considering outsourcing but decided that the organization could not effectively balance major strategic projects with other everyday IT projects. Additionally, CoxHealth's ultimate goal was to consolidate the organization's core systems, such as laboratory, pharmacy and the hospital, onto the same system, a feat that could've taken the organization itself years to accomplish.
Robison said the organization had been a Cerner customer since 2006 and began looking at the company as a potential candidate for taking over its IT operation management. CoxHealth spent more than a year vetting Cerner ITWorks and ultimately decided it was "the right thing to do" after determining Cerner could bring resources to the table that CoxHealth didn't have.
As part of the transition process, 140 CoxHealth IT staff transitioned to become Cerner employees. Dick Flanigan, Cerner ITWorks' senior vice president, said as part of this type of partnership, Cerner assumes day-to-day responsibility of an organization's IT department, as well as the IT workforce.
Bruce RobisonCIO, CoxHealth
"The health system's team remains local as IT staff are offered the opportunity to become Cerner associates, with additional resources and training for professional development," Flanigan said.
Once Cerner ITWorks came on board, Robison said CoxHealth's IT operation management "matured overnight."
"Cerner was able to look at the simple, nagging problems we had in our network, challenges we could not resolve," Robison said. "We had issues with network storms, based on the way the network was architected, and within a matter of weeks we had an understanding of what the problem was and how to fix it."
Around the time CoxHealth began using ITWorks, Robison said CoxHealth purchased a hospital in Branson, Mo., that used another vendor's EHR system. CoxHealth needed to implement Cerner's EHR at the hospital to bring them on board and satisfy the organization's "one-source, one-chart strategy," a project that would've taken a CoxHealth-based IT team two years to complete.
With Cerner ITWorks on board, however, Robison said Cerner was able to increase resources and bring in skill sets CoxHealth didn't have, and Cerner's employees completed the project and got the Cerner EHR fully operational in the hospital within six months.
Robison said it was a matter of "having the skills to understand what we needed to do."
He added the organization's stability has improved since using Cerner ITWorks. The system has gone from outages and downtime that affected the overall system to 100% availability of the system and clinical records, an achievement Robison said he's unsure CoxHealth would've accomplished internally.
Additionally, CoxHealth maintains a constant connection to Cerner ITWorks, enabling the organization to stay on top of what's new and being developed at Cerner headquarters, as well as maintain a stable IT environment.
"With ITWorks, those connections are all the time," Robison said. "It's not a 'call them when you need them situation,' it's a continuous connection."
Cerner partners with health systems for IT operation management
Along with CoxHealth, Cerner ITWorks currently manages the IT departments of more than 30 organizations, including academic, pediatric, community and global clients, ranging from 99 to 2,000 beds.
Cerner recently partnered with Medical Center Health System (MCHS) in Odessa, Texas, which opted to use Cerner ITWorks to improve the delivery of healthcare services. MCHS serves residents in Odessa and surrounding counties.
As part of the partnership, Cerner ITWorks assumed day-to-day management of MCHS' EHR IT operations and staff starting Sept. 10, according to an MCHS statement. Cerner ITWorks will help MCHS manage its Cerner Millennium healthcare IT platform that provides doctors and nurses with a digital patient record.
"This alignment will pair MCHS' high-quality care with Cerner's IT expertise to help us keep up with the rapid pace of health care innovation," said Rick Napper, MCHS president and CEO, in the statement.
Flanigan said together, the best attributes of both organizations will focus on "improving the quality and safety of care."
"We will align Cerner's tools, resources and capabilities around MCHS to help the health system accomplish its financial, clinical, technical and operational goals," Flanigan said.