Zoph and Northwestern Memorial--
Recognized Hospital Technology Leaders
by John Fries
The past several months have been remarkable for Northwestern Memorial
Hospital (NHM), a 744-bed, premier academic medical center located
in the heart of Chicago.
Last year, Timothy R. Zoph, Northwestern MemorialÕs vice president
of information services and chief information officer, was named the
2003 John E. Gall CIO of the Year. ThatÕs an annual honor awarded
jointly by the Health Information Management and Systems Society and
the College of Healthcare Information Management to an information
technology executive who has made significant contributions to his
or her organization and the profession.
Then, this past July Š and for the fifth consecutive year Š Northwestern
Memorial was named one of the 100 Most Wired hospitals and health
systems by Hospitals & Health Networks, the journal of the American
Hospital Association. The Most Wired designation is based on hospitalsÕ
voluntary participation in a survey that focuses on how they use information
technology to address operational and strategic challenges.
After flipping through a stack of magazine and newspaper articles
and reading about Zoph, his accomplishments, and the state of advanced
technology at NMH, the first question I asked him when we spoke on
the phone was, "How did you become so proficient at what you do?"
Zoph attributed his success to two factors. "IÕm very fortunate to
work in an organization like Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and fortunate
to work with, and be supported by, leadership who have a clear focus
and are willing to take some risks."
The other factor, he said, is the 20 years experience he has as a
CIO in a growing technology field as well as in management, which
he developed in the executive program at the Kellogg School of Management
at Northwestern University.
Twenty years is an eternity in information technology, when you consider
how relatively primitive technology was in 1984. The hospital environment
has been revolutionized over the past two decades, with monitors on
every desktop, digital diagnostics and treatment, e-mail, Web-based
technologies and more.
In ZophÕs 20 years as a CIO, his world has changed dramatically many
times over. More impressive, though, is that heÕs consistently been
at the forefront of that change.
"At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, our approach is not to introduce
new technology for the sake of having something first," he explained.
"We make decisions based on how the technology will help our facility,
our employees and our patients. We are an organization that is very
focused on planning, and has, from the start of any initiative, clear,
The hospitalÕs plans include a sustained long-term investment in acquiring
and implementing technology. Northwestern Memorial Hospital has allocated
almost one-third of its annual capital budget from 2002 through 2010
to advanced IT systems, equaling approximately $100 million.
"When we were opening the hospital and physician offices in 1999,"
he continued, "we looked at filmless radiology technology. Rather
than roll it out to the entire institution, we piloted the program
in our emergency department. The doctors that used it, helped us improve
it and now the technicians consider it to be of real value."
The evolution continues. "All of our medication ordering is now done
using technology, The entire process of ordering and filling the prescription
takes place via computer, up to the point of administering the medications.
"Then, the nurse references it on a computer to electronically document
the medication and have access to other reference information regarding
medication side effects."
Going forward. the hospital is piloting bar coding solutions at the
bedside to ensure that the correct dose of the correct drug is going
to the correct patient at the correct time, and even check for possible
" Handwriting," he said, "is too time-consuming and
inefficient. ItÕs also subject to interpretation. Technology makes
the process faster, creates improved efficiencies, gets the medications
to the patients much more quickly, and significantly reduces the possibility
The next big thing, as Zoph sees it, is wireless technology. "At Northwestern
Memorial, all the patient care units are wireless," he said. "We have
45 access points in each 30-bed unit. This includes wireless workstations
on carts. Also, physicians have the option of carrying laptops."
A long-standing discussion among legislators in Washington has focused
on the creation of a national electronic healthcare record for patients.
Both major political parties have voiced support for such an initiative.
So does Zoph.
"WeÕre very much behind it," he said. "In fact, Gary Mecklenburg,
president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, is chairman
of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology. HeÕs been
working on policy and advocacy with Dr. David Brailer (who was recently
appointed as the nationÕs director of health information technology,
a position that was created earlier this year by President Bush.).
At the end of the day, a critical component of the national health
record will be implementing a national standard for compiling and
exchanging health information."
Zoph points to such industries as banking, retail and financial services,
which have been using similar technology.
"Eventually, technology will enable communication among hospitals
and health networks. However, providing security and privacy will
be key to its success. Standards will drive it, and it will be wise
to embrace common methods of implementation."