CIO Spotlight: Bill Gillis, Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization (BIDCO)

Name: Bill Gillis

Company: Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization (BIDCO)

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: June 2012

Location: Westwood, Massachusetts

Bill Gillis, MS is the CIO for Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization (BIDCO), a value-based physician and hospital network and Accountable Care Organization (ACO) in Westwood, Massachusetts. In his role as CIO, Gillis leads health information technology innovations that support BIDCO's network of 2,700 physicians and eight hospitals in the delivery of high-quality, cost-effective care. Bill has worked in health care IT for more than twenty years and specialises in electronic health records (EHR) and Health Information Exchange (HIE) interoperability strategies, technologies and deployments. Working directly with John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Gillis led the team that deployed the first ambulatory EHR system for BIDMC affiliates in 1997. In 2007, he led the BIDCO team that architected and deployed what is believed to be the first cloud-based EHR offering in the country, enabling significant Triple-Aim improvements that helped the organisation achieve ranking as the #1 performing Pioneer ACO in Massachusetts and #3 nationally in 2013, as well as the top-performing ACO in quality reporting in 2015. Gillis is currently on the technical subcommittee for the Massachusetts Health Information Exchange (MAHIway).

What was your first job? I had a fascination with electronics and communications at a young age.  I worked at a local electronics supply warehouse for soda and parts when I was about 10, which in the early 70's was an interesting place to be. The general conversations ranged from Phone Phreaking & Cracking to Cryptography and RF jacking.  I built my own packet radio and first computer with parts from that shop. My first paid technology job was building a database for a local courier company.  It was sort of an early CRM & billing platform. To this day I can sound off the zip code of any metro Boston neighborhood from building those data dictionaries.

Did you always want to work in IT? I've always wanted to do things with computers and electronics, so in some ways yes.  I think it was the specific challenges of HealthCare IT that drew me in and kept me here. There is always opportunity to innovate and those innovations can have a direct impact on patients/people.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I did my undergrad and grad work in Computer Engineering and have an MS. For me that combined my affinity for computers and electronics. Not sure if this counts as a certificate but I held a motorcycle land speed record from 2007-2011.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I've had lot of "off ramps" along the way.  When I finished my undergrad I spent three months backpacking around Europe trading odd jobs for food or pocket money. I then moved to Hawaii and spent a year surfing, supported myself bartending and driving a pedicab around Waikiki.  In 1986 I began racing motorcycles moved into the professional ranks in 1987. I raced professionally from 1987-1991 and got to travel and race in Europe and Asia.  Along the way I would find work in building/supporting and maintaining hardware & databases for companies. My first Health IT job was for a Durable Medical Equipment Company in Boston where I supported their billing and inventory system on a Prime Computer. I did my graduate work while I was there and took a position in Heath IT at Beth Israel a few months after completing my MS. I'm still involved in racing and coach and teach at various racing schools around the country. I've always brought the teamwork and leadership concepts I learned from racing into my management style.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We are in the midst of a merger with another health system that officially kicked off on March 1. With that, much of our time and investments will be focused on combining all of that data into a unified Population Health, Care Management & Analytics platform. Beyond that we are still hoping to leverage some AI & ML to drive insights into what we call our ‘dark data'.  That is all the unstructured, un-coded and unmapped data we receive but cannot readily leverage.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our network is very diverse and we have over 30 EMRs and HIS systems we integrate data from. If you count the individual installs of the systems we are well over 100. We will continue to expand the capabilities and possibilities of our combined Pop Health/Care Management/Analytics platform. We have a new feature in pilot phase right now that could basically turn our combined data platforms into sort of network-wide Longitudinal Medical Record lite. This will provide a level of interoperability we simply do not have today. Aside from that, it will be leveraging data and technology to maximise performance in the CMS MSSP program and our various commercial risk contracts. This will include a very robust and data driven behavioral health and Socials Determinants of Health program. 

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? In the healthcare space I think today's CIO needs to more engaged and understand the clinical components that drive patient outcomes and how those can be achieved with technology. There are aspects of improving outcomes and sustained health that traditionally where driven by clinical but are truly operational technology driven tasks. A high performing quality program comes to mind. That said, and I'll probably get some flak for this, things like Telecomm and even networks are truly operational tasks at this point and might be better suited in a fully managed Ops environment. 

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We are using data to improve outcomes at the patient and population levels with the goal of cost reducing and improved health. 

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our data driven KPIs are really around quality improvement and patient outcome. The more we can effectively and accurately identify patients and place them in the appropriate populations for care, the better BIDCO will perform overall. The goal is to keep people healthy and out of any rising risk or high risk categories of care. 

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? The culture we foster here at BIDCO is one of collaboration and teamwork.  I know that may sound like a canned response but we do live and breathe it here.  Everyone is part of the process and has an opportunity for providing value to our programs. Everyone knows they are part of a greater whole and that their contributions matter. I cultivate that culture in my team by making sure everyone knows the entire teams is with and behind them. I make sure everyone knows there is no takes above or below anyone on the team and that includes myself. I would never ask anyone to do anything I would not willingly do myself.  You could find me at a board meeting one day and the next crawling under someone desk fixing a desktop PC issue. My door is always open (literally) and I encourage people to take advantage of that. They know I always have their back and have never used the team as an excuse for me not getting something completed. 

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Data analysts with a true understanding of data captured at the clinical system level. These folks are few and far between and it is a long road bringing someone up to speed who has traditionally been in the traditional claims-based analytics role. Another skill is experience implementing a clinical system in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Understanding how workflows and clinical efficiencies are impacted by new technology is critical for a successful population health platform implementation. 

What's the best career advice you ever received? John Halamka once told me "you must have a solid trajectory; you must believe in it & stand behind it and don't sweat the small stuff. If you do that, eventually everything will come around despite all the daily noise." I don't think there is a day that goes by that that is not in my mind consciously or subconsciously. 

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I can't say that I have an envelope in my desk marked "succession", I'd like to think I'm still around for a few more years. That said, we have a very solid and capable team here in IT at BIDCO. I regularly expose people to challenges both operational and administrative to stretch their comfort zones. While they might "sweat the small stuff" at first, once the challenge is completed and they see the outcome or get feedback on the exposure they feel empowered. I'm also a firm believer in the concept of no part being greater than the whole. While you might stumble a bit when a part is suddenly missing, if you've built a solid foundation, the remaining parts will pick up the load and find a different path if necessary. At the core of this is true teamwork.  Everyone knows they can rely on each other to get past the rough spots. 

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Be an advocate for change and be willing to take some risks. Dedicate at least some percentage of your time and your team's time to innovation. Nothing fires people up more than feeling they are part of something new and exciting. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? Honestly, building the strong team I have around me that to me are some of the best minds in Healthcare IT in the country.  The house is only as strong as the foundation it sits on. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? It would be to not allow myself to get hung up on specifics and instead always look at the bigger picture.

What are you reading now? I know this is where I'm supposed to list something intelligent and insightful sounding but that's just not the case right now. I'm currently reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner (second read) & The Peripheral by William Gibson. I do encourage folks on my team to read Skunk Works, a book about Lockheed R&D & Essence of Decision, a political science book on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think the concepts expressed in both of these books can be taken and crafted to any collaborative process.

Most people don't know that I… I am a descedant of General John Stark who led the New Hampshire Militia during the Revolutionary War. He was the deciding factor in the Battle of Bunker Hill and turned the tide of the war with his victory at the Battle of Bennington. He is known for the phrase "Live Free or Die", which is the NH state motto.

In my spare time, I like to…Race motorcycles, build engines and attempt to hold my own playing organised ice hockey.

Ask me to do anything but… Anything to do with plumbing…For the life of me it's just confounding. I can strip an engine down to its individual components, re-assemble it and have it work fine. But plumbing, no matter what I do, if I mess with it, I end up with a leak and have to call a professional plumber.