Joy Grosser, Vice President and CIO, UnityPoint Health

Joy Grosser, Vice President and CIO, UnityPoint Health

By Aine Cryts

Healthcare CIOs across the nation want to fix interoperability and improve care coordination. Joy Grosser, vice president and CIO at Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health, advises CIOs to consider the importance of their roles as patients as they tackle these issues. When healthcare IT systems don’t share information, care is more costly and inefficient, says Grosser.

AXIS recently spoke with Grosser about her perspective on driving interoperability—at her hospital and across the country.

AXIS: What is your advice for healthcare CIOs as they think about fixing interoperability issues at their healthcare organizations?

Grosser: One of the interesting things about being a CIO at a healthcare organization is we use the products that we are responsible for supporting. And it becomes easy to see that the whole issue is one of care coordination. If a CIO goes to the doctor because she thinks she’s broken her leg, the doctor looks at an x-ray they take to confirm that the leg is broken. Then the CIO is sent to a specialist, who has an x-ray done of the CIOs leg and confirms her leg is broken. The specialist then sends the CIO to the hospital to get the leg pinned. And another x-ray is taken. In this scenario, the CIO is being exposed to a lot of radiation; she’s also costing her hospital a ton of money.

If the hospital doesn’t check to see if there was an x-ray available, they’re not going to be reimbursed for that x-ray. That CIO has just cost her organization a significant amount of money that will not be reimbursed because her head is too buried in the problems of today—instead of looking at how she’s helping to coordinate care for the future.

AXIS: What are some successes you’ve achieved at UnityPoint Health in terms of interoperability?

Grosser: In 2014, UnityPoint Health exchanged about 1.7 million patient records outside our system with 300 different organizations in 41 states. We did that through messaging, through our EHR, and through a government-funded health information exchange. And that level of sharing is increasing. We can’t wait for the perfect solution to start exchanging information.

What drives us is focusing on making sure that our provider community has access to the right pieces of information when they need it.

AXIS: What are the challenges associated with interoperability today…and what promise does it hold?

Grosser: Our greatest challenge is pulling the data together and being able to use it in multiple settings—whether it’s the patient who’s just come into the emergency room and we need access to his records to find out his history, whether it’s the patient who’s presenting with particular symptoms and we need to look at information about those symptoms, or whether, from a population health standpoint, it is communities that are being impacted. It’s not just about how we’re taking care of things on a grand scale, like with Ebola, Rather, it’s about realizing that this drug is less effective with people with blue eyes than it is with patients with green eyes. So it’s about helping to make treatment that’s not “one size fits all.” It’s about helping consumers engage in their own healthcare and get more knowledge about what can be done to keep them healthy.

Data—in and of itself—doesn’t do anything. It brings together knowledge that can help us get in front of illnesses. As we shift from a sickness-reaction model to a forward-thinking healthcare model—and that’s population health and risk-stratification—we really need to bring that data together in such a way that we have a good picture of individuals, communities, and people in a particular care setting.

AXIS: How could creating standards help to support interoperability?

Gross: None of our systems in IT were built at a time when sharing information outside our healthcare systems was a requirement. These IT systems were meant to help you manage the patients at your hospital, clinic, or home care organization. These IT systems were built for a sickness-reaction model.

If we’re not deliberate that interoperability is a key driver to helping to keep our populations healthier then it will get lost in the process. Interoperability is not easy to do. But we have really smart people in this country who are working hard at the right approaches to fixing this issue. We just have to support them.


About Joy Grosser:

Joy Grosser is vice president and CIO of UnityPoint Health, a network of hospitals, clinics, and home care services in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Grosser is responsible for a centralized information technology department across the entire health system. Prior to joining UnityPoint Health, she served as CIO for the University of California Irvine Health Sciences System in Orange, Calif.

Grosser has a bachelor’s degree in political science and health economics from Stanford University, and a master’s in health administration from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. She is a member of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and the Health Information Management Systems Society. The chair of the Technology Association of Iowa, Grosser is also an executive committee member of the Make A Wish, Iowa board.