For J. Scott Joslyn, a serendipitous marriage of his interest in technology with a background in pharmacy was a match made in heaven.
Today he is able to use his clinical background to enhance his role as chief information officer of four-hospital Memorial Health Services, Long Beach, Calif., in ways a traditional information or purely business-trained executive might not think to.
"It takes an intimate knowledge of the care delivery process . . . to figure out how you're going to apply technology there," he says. "It does help, I think, to have a sensitivity to the area, and you do get that from a background in that area."
His job is to come up with "healthcare processes that ultimately lead to higher quality and cost-effective healthcare," he says. "We're going to have to be creative, and I think technology is going to be part of the answer."
In essence, Joslyn's role involves "being a bridge" between the clinical world and the executive suite. Rather than spending all the system's funds on a whizzbang collections system, for example, Joslyn tries to be mindful of how information technology might also help make nurses' jobs easier.
The path from pharmacist to CIO was not a traditional one, but for Joslyn it was a logical one.
In the late 1970s, as he studied clinical pharmacy, Joslyn became keenly aware of the revolution that was bringing computers into the realm of everyday business. He enjoyed programming and somehow worked it into his job description during a pharmacy residency at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, where he created programs to monitor drug doses and tailor drug therapy.
Joslyn, a licensed pharmacist in California and Nevada, received his doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., in May 1977 and practiced pharmacy at Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia.
He moved to Memorial in 1979. Thirteen years later he became the hospital's CIO, and three years after that CIO of its parent, Memorial Health Services.
Joslyn profited from his technology interest during his pharmacy residency at Memorial, where he was able to do some programming related to pharmacokinetic dosing.
"It caught the attention of the director of information services, who needed someone who knew something about healthcare," he recalled. "I had a choice of continuing my pursuit of a pharmacy career or going a different road. I chose to go a different road."
Up the ladder. A year after his arrival at Memorial, Joslyn became a senior systems analyst and, soon after that, manager of analysis and programming. For the next two years, he focused on programming and systems analysis, trying to build systems that the hospital couldn't find on the market. By July 1984, he was named associate director of information systems, responsible for the data center, help desk and quality-assurance program.
He also realized that a degree in business might enhance his credibility, so he went back to school and earned his MBA from the University of California Los Angeles.
In 1989, Joslyn got involved in the hospital's $16 million investment in a new information system, which included new billing and accounts receivable processes. He managed the installation of that system, and in 1992 ascended to hospital CIO.
When Memorial Health Services, the hospital's parent corporation, outsourced its entire information services department, Joslyn followed, becoming executive account manager at the contractor -- Dallas-based BRC Healthcare.
There he had management responsibility for the company's $84 million, seven-year contract with Memorial Health Services while still functioning as the CIO for the system.
Ultimately, however, Memorial decided to locate management of its information systems back within the system, so Joslyn was brought back to manage the contract with BRC in late 1995. That's when he was named senior vice president and CIO of Memorial Health Services.
Joslyn estimates at least 90% of CIOs have traditional business or technology backgrounds, while only 5% to 10% have clinical backgrounds. For him, the choice between pharmacy and information systems wasn't a difficult one.
His clinical background has been especially helpful in dealing with physicians and understanding their needs. "It's advocacy, more than anything else, of the clinician's viewpoint," he said, "and being able to interpret their needs in both business and technical terms."
However, Joslyn also considers himself a "skeptical advocate." What may appear a grand idea for automation may look great from 35,000 feet, where all the system's hospitals look the same, but at ground level, it may not work, he says.