September 2004

Tim 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, measurable results."

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 side effects.

" 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 of errors."

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."

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