Mayo Clinic's CIO was treated for Stage 3 cancer. Here's what went well—and what made him 'cringe.'

At the annual HIMSS conference on Tuesday, Mayo Clinic CIO Cris Ross revealed he had recently undergone treatment for Stage 3 cancer—and the experience underscored just how far the United States  still has to go in creating usable, interoperable health IT systems, Arundhati Parmar reports for MedCity News.

Innovation 101: Cheat sheets for today's digital world

How health care IT can 'do better'

After spearheading Mayo Clinic's EHR conversion to Epic last year, Ross was diagnosed with a "serious" but curable cancer. It required months of lab tests, radiation therapy, chemo therapy, and doctors' visits.

The diagnosis also allowed Ross to experience health care IT as a patient—or as Ross described it, he finally had to "eat what [he] cooked," according to Parmar.

"Our EHR conversion went well—we either met or exceeded all of our targets," Ross said at the conference. "But as I had my MRIs and CT scans and radiation therapy and lab appointments and office visits, I sometimes had to cringe seeing a clinician struggle with something that we simply haven't mastered yet."

During Ross' treatment, he observed that information collection and automation went smoothly, but his providers kept hitting obstacles with interoperability and data sharing, in part because the systems simply weren't easy enough for clinicians to use.

Seeing this, Ross emphasized that the industry "can do better."

"[A]ll of us here, want to deliver great usable systems," he said. "That means that creating space for usability. That means being intolerable of the mediocre. That means trust, collaboration between clinicians and technology professionals."

Instead of "merely coping" with the issues that require immediate attention, health IT professionals should also seek to use IT to "transform" the patient experience, Ross said. "None of the core functions can be sacrificed or neglected, but the tyranny of the urgent can sometimes crush the vital," he said.

What's next for Ross

At the end of his speech, Ross "spoke from the heart" about the odds that he will continue to navigate the health care system as a patient, according to MedCity News.

Ross said he could be one of 25% to 35% of patients with his type of cancer who will experience a recurrence of the disease later in life.  And in the short term,  he'll need additional surgeries next month to ensure he's completely cancer free.

But Ross said he hopes his experience as a patient will provide him with the "personal clarity ... empathy, awareness, and commitment" necessary to be "a better CIO after [his] journey."

"I don't recommend getting cancer as the best way to focus your career," he said. "But there are gifts from the most unpleasant and unwelcome of journeys. I've seen in profound new ways what works and what doesn't, and I am determined to deliver what's needed" (Parmar, MedCity News, 2/12).

Why interoperability is so important

As Ross discovered, obstacles with interoperability and data sharing can make it hard for physicians to deliver the highest quality care. Consumers and clinicians increasingly expect data to follow them seamlessly across multiple care settings, and organizations that build mature interoperability capabilities are better positioned to analyze their operations, optimize workflows, and deliver efficient, reliable care that wins patient loyalty.

Not to mention, with CMS changing their Meaningful Use (MU) program to new the Promoting Interoperability (PI) standards in the IPPS 2019 final rule, hospitals can face hefty penalties if they don't meet Medicare's interoperability standards. We've gathered the resources your organization needs to improve interoperability and meet CMS' evolving standards. Check out our:

See all our Resources


Next in the Daily Briefing

Weekend reads: Are you a 'night owl'? Here's how your brain works.

Read now