While the 700-plus members of Sharp Community Medical Group, an independent practice association, spent nine months evaluating electronic medical-record products, Michael Murphy, president and chief executive officer of Sharp HealthCare, didn't try to control the process.
Murphy made his preference knowna software product two other Sharp-affiliated medical practices had already selected. But he also made it clear that he would support any decision Sharp Community made. "He said to the group, 'You have to choose because you have to live with it and you have to love it,' " says Elizabeth Curtis, the medical group's CEO.
Murphy simply doesn't have "a cram-down-your-throat style," Curtis says. "When he tees up a topic that he thinks might be controversial or that all the people around the table don't agree with, he'll start by saying, 'I need and I expect some of you to push back on this,' " Curtis says.
Since becoming the top executive at San Diego-based Sharp in June 1996, Murphy has used a consensus-building style that continually led seven hospitals (four acute-care facilities and three specialized operations) and 2,600 affiliated physicians to leverage information systems to improve patient care.
In addition to the physician-practice EMR, Murphy supported a difficult decision to deploy a single-product, inpatient EMR, severing decades-old relationships with a number of other vendors. He also formed an information technology board committee and revamped an executive IT committee, which he chairs.
For those accomplishments, among others, Murphy, 49, was chosen as one of three recipients of the 2007 CEO IT Achievement Award, co-sponsored by Modern Healthcare and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Murphy stood out among nominees for this year's award because he was "actively and personally engaged" in IT, says Sherry Browne, senior vice president and chief information officer at Ascension Health, St. Louis, and one of this year's judges.
Murphy's commitment to the power of IT to transform processes has grown steadily over the years, beginning with his 13-year stint as a certified public accountant representing healthcare clients. Murphy left the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, where he was a partner, in 1991 to become chief financial officer of Sharp Grossmont Hospital, La Mesa, Calif. "There was a lot going on when I joined Sharp related to information technology. It is really the people over here who made it clear when I joined that this is an area we needed to continue to focus on," Murphy recalls.
That's exactly what has happened. Murphy says IT is an important tool of a program he launched six years ago called The Sharp Experience, which strives to improve patient, employee and physician satisfaction with the health system using Six Sigma, a systematic, data-driven approach to continuous quality improvement originally developed at Motorola.
An important part of the quest to improve quality has been Sharp HealthCare's deployment of an EMR. Information technology staffers for years had embraced a best-of-breed strategy in which they wrote software code to connect disparate systems. The problem: They couldn't write effective interfaces to connect order entry (GE Healthcare's Centricity Enterprise, formerly IDX's Carecast) and nursing documentation (Clinicomp International's Essentris) because of technical differences between the two products. This forced nurses to toggle between the systems.
In addition to the interoperability issues, the system's IT staff was working to accommodate Sharp's plans for a 334-bed replacement for its flagship hospital, 565-bed Sharp Memorial, San Diegoa new facility set to open in summer 2008 that would operate nearly paperlessly, says William Spooner, senior vice president and CIO of Sharp HealthCare.
Spooner describes the design of the new Sharp Memorial as "paper lite," saying even with a fully deployed EMR, employees probably still will scan into the system the myriad paper forms patients bring with them.
Given the interoperability issues, Spooner concluded that Sharp would never meet the paper-lite deadline with the best-of-breed strategy. "That left us in a box," Spooner recalls. "We had the conversation that if we switch horses right now, that said we failed in what we had been doing all these years. I think that's where it comes down to Mike's leadership: the recognition that we have got to be successful in the future; let's not worry about whether it is perceived that we failed in the past."
After some quiet investigation into alternate EMR products, Spooner felt that Cerner Millennium from Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner Corp. might be the best bet.
Before making a switch, however, Murphy says, "We needed to be cautious and calculated while we evaluated whether we were going to make a major strategic change that would impact a number of existing products." To do so, a group of 15 to 20 senior executives, including Murphy, and physician leaders evaluated the Cerner product as well as contract terms.
Sharp's board approved the decision to deploy Cerner Millennium on July 22. Existing vendors as well as the health system's employees and physicians were told of the decision shortly afterward.
Sharp plans to roll out new EMRs to the existing Sharp Memorial in November and then to the new hospital in 2008. It will be rolled out to the other hospitals in 2009.
An IT committee of Sharp's board of directors was created in 2001, when Murphy brought together board members as well as IT-savvy physicians and IT professionals from the larger San Diego community. Murphy and Spooner also sit on the committee.
Ascension's Browne says it's rare for a CEO to form an IT board committee as well as to personally chair an IT executive committee, and that illustrates Murphy's unusual level of commitment. Says Browne, "For the CEO to feel like that (IT) is his or her personal obligation is pretty significant."
Murphy is one of three recipients of Modern Healthcare's fifth annual CEO IT Achievement Award program, co-sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Alan Aviles and John Ferguson were also recipients.
This story initially appeared in this week's edition of Modern Healthcare magazine.
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