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Piedmont Healthcare CIO on IT's M&A role

CIO Geoffrey Brown has helped lead Piedmont Healthcare through the addition of six new hospitals to the health system network.

Piedmont Healthcare vice president and CIO Geoffrey Brown knows a thing or two about helping lead a healthcare system through a merger and acquisition.

Brown has played an instrumental role in merging the IT systems of half a dozen hospitals that have become part of the Piedmont Healthcare system since 2015. Piedmont Healthcare is an 11-hospital nonprofit health system serving more than two million patients across Georgia.

Integrating the IT systems of six new hospitals involved getting each hospital on the same financial, operational and clinical systems -- including the same Epic EHR. Getting every hospital on the same page through an M&A is critical to the success of the overall organization by ensuring patients have a consistent experience across the system, Brown said.

In this Q&A, Brown discusses the healthcare CIO's role during an M&A, as well as his strategy when it comes to bringing IT systems together.

What is a healthcare CIO's role during an M&A?

Geoffrey BrownGeoffrey Brown

Geoffrey Brown: It is generally to assess the relationship from the technology and infrastructure perspective. We typically have a support team in place to understand what they're doing, what applications and systems they run and the provisioning of care and services in those organizations. We also look at the infrastructure and the state of that infrastructure relative to whether it is compliant with things like security standards. We do an assessment of policies, standards and readiness in relation to cybersecurity. We look at the vulnerabilities they have and get at least a read on that and look at their network and whether they have the ability or the robust performance levels to connect and use our systems or if they need a refresh of their technology to be compatible.

How long can it take to make sure a hospital is ready to be brought onto the Piedmont Healthcare network?

Brown: My preference has always been to do so within 12 months or less of the go button. It's very difficult to keep focus going into a multi-year state. There may be some things you push, but I believe the right approach is to get the organizations aligned on the common systems that drive the relationship -- and that would include making sure we can incorporate them into the workflow and protocols that have been established around our clinical care, our business and operations, and some of the human resources activities.

What's your strategy for leading Piedmont Healthcare through an M&A?

Brown: We have an IS [information system] governance council and we talk to them about how decisions are made. Then I come up with some guiding principles, depending on the staffing requirements and project management processes [for] how we go forward with decisions that are made around moving people or projects forward, stopping certain projects, maybe even integrating elements of the team. Typically within the first 30 days, we'll have a CIO [at the merging hospital] come and report to my office. Up front, we try to work through the plan, make sure that the leadership and integration team members assigned to the effort, that there's clarity around what we're asking of them, what it looks like going forward. I also take time to hear from them and gain insights from them, which I think is an important part of the exercise. Moving forward, we allow the IS governance executive integration team to make decisions on what's in or out. We [make decisions for] things at the CIO level where it's within the IT structure. But things that fall outside of that, we like to send it to the overall governance executive integration team, which is typically made up of members of our executive teams and board members of the incoming organization.

What are some of the most important lessons you've learned going through an M&A?

Brown: Get on the site when the time is right so that you can meet the leadership, meet the team, establish communication. As you're forming your plan, as you're looking to achieve buy-in, you have opportunity to get feedback. I also think it's important you pick a team that can be developed early on. No team starts out being high performance, so the sooner you can begin to bring an [integration] team together … the better off you're going to be.

Successful integrations require alignment, cooperation and clear planning, and an understanding of a number of different areas. You won't have a successful integration if you don't take time to make sure those things are clear.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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