In this interview, Cynthia Petrone-Hudock takes some time to reflect on the reasons and the need for a new approach to supporting healthcare IT applications in a way that increases efficiencies while reducing cost.
If you talk to Cynthia Petrone-Hudock for any length of time, you’re almost certain to hear her mention the word visionary. While she uses it to characterize some of the industry peers she most admires, we think the word is entirely appropriate to describe Cynthia herself.
As our Chief Strategy Officer, she brings a unique vision to the services offered by the HCI Group. For many years, Cynthia distinguished herself in the financial-services industry, holding leadership positions with Mellon Bank and MBNA. As you’ll read, a compelling turn of events directed her path to the healthcare informatics industry, and she has proven to be a true leader in driving change for the better.
Cynthia holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Delaware as well as an MBA from Philadelphia’s Drexel University, with a concentration in Management Information Systems
Q. What led you to the field of healthcare IT?
A. I spent 23 years working for financial institutions. I really never had much interaction with the healthcare industry. I guess I was just lucky and always had a healthy family. Then in 2003, my Father became ill with pancreatic cancer. As he battled the disease for 13 months, I remained by his side. Toward the end, I took a month off of work and stayed in the hospital room every day from 7 in the morning to 10 at night. I observed the hospital staff day in and day out working through broken processes with virtually no technology. Patient advocacy became my job.
After his passing, I vowed to spend my career making a difference in healthcare. Since I faint at the sight of blood, I had only one option, to lead organizations through identifying opportunity for process improvement and enabling technology. My goal was to make a positive impact on healthcare. So, I’m in this industry because I want to be, every day I work to develop creative solutions with our clients that make a strategic difference in care, improve mechanisms for communication and reduce cost.
Q. Could you talk about what the company was doing in the clinical service-desk area when you came in and how that has evolved?
A. We offered a simple model of remote support before we developed the broader service line. Consultants were able to remain in their home offices and work EHR application service tickets. Although this saved travel expense, labor costs were still fairly high.
As we continued to review the needs of our customers, we identified trends in application support … trends of process breakdown. We quickly expanded our scope to look at the broader sustaining support function. From tracing the first call that comes into the healthcare system’s service desk, watching it get triaged, treated and eventually released offered great opportunity to improve process. Strengthening teams for first call resolution, ensuring effective escalation, teasing out training opportunities and closing the loop once a ticket has been truly resolved was key. Our analysts now take a holistic approach, based on data analytics and observation techniques, to tease out ineffective and inefficient steps along the way.
Today, our sustaining support model has been evolved into a full service solution. It is built so we can plug and play; a tailored solution to our client’s needs. With regard to assisting with ticket management, we offer traditional onsite solutions but have expanded to a centralized remote solution that allows the client to partially or fully outsource to a centrally located team. In developing this solution, we focused on obtaining benefits from an economy of scale, as there were many similarities in our customer’s needs. Being able to leverage manpower across multiple clients allows for increased productivity, reduced downtime and savings passed back to our customers.
Q. Looking to the future, when healthcare systems have almost universally instituted electronic health records, the focus in the industry will shift to supporting the EHR, correct?
Not long after go-live there tends to be a revelation that support, of this new way to do business, may cost more than originally anticipated. At this point the management team is realizing that care can only be given through the enabling technology and IT costs as a percent of the overall cost pie has permanently increased.
We find many CFOs asking their CIOs to justify enhancements and manage the sustaining support costs. In turn, the CIOs are tasked to hold the operational areas responsible for cost/benefit justification as well as accomplishing the return. CIOs are focusing on bringing their support costs down to the lowest common denominator and that is where we come in.
Q. What advantages do the HCI Group’s sustaining support services offer compared to others in the industry?
A. We offer a full suite of services from analytical assessment to strengthening client staff and process to assistance with capacity planning and leveraging a flexibly skilled outsource model.
Q. What’s the real difference between sustaining support services and just a clinical service desk?
A. In the sustaining support model, we’re looking at every step of the process, from the minute the user reaches out for help to the resolution of that incident and beyond. So in the support cycle, it’s typically the user calling the desk, the desk needing to escalate the question to the application team and then the fun begins. Many times the issue is assigned incorrectly and might bounce around the application team causing great inefficiency. When it finally gets to the right person and gets resolved, the user may be the only one that gets notified as no one is responsible for closing the loop in the process making sure the trainers, all users and yes, the help desk are made aware of the change. In addition through business intelligence and data analytics the HCI group continues to analyze and refine the application build itself. We work to identify trends and leverage our cross-certified resources to quickly root cause issues and identify where we can recommend improvements in the application to simplify the required support in the long run. It’s about people, process and technology coming together to improve the support model.