Nebraska Medicine: How Alignment and Strategic Partnerships Enable Transformation

Brian Lancaster, vice president of information technology at Nebraska Medicine, shares how his organization has approached its innovation strategy to better support employees and enable effective transformation.

Nebraska Medicine and its research and education partner, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, are committed to creating a healthy future for the communities they serve through education, research, and patient care. Having built a reputation for breakthroughs in cancer care, organ transplants, and treatment of infectious diseases, Nebraska Medicine has embraced innovation to ensure patients receive the highest quality of care possible. 

We sat down with Brian Lancaster, vice president, information technology at Nebraska Medicine, to learn how his organization has approached its innovation strategy to better support employees and enable effective patient care, and to understand how Workday is supporting Nebraska Medicine’s transformation journey. 

Can you tell us about your background and your role at Nebraska Medicine?

Prior to Nebraska Medicine, I worked in product development for a healthcare information technology company. But I was always more intrigued with what I refer to as the “last mile” of healthcare IT product development: how people use those products to create outcomes. 

I’m an Ironman competitor in my personal life, so I recognize that sometimes the last mile is very long. I was drawn to Nebraska Medicine because the organization is taking on the challenge of the last mile and making outcomes happen for the communities it serves. I’m proud to be part of the Nebraska Medicine team, where I can focus on optimizing technology to create business outcomes.

When you joined Nebraska Medicine, what challenges was the organization facing?

Our employees were frustrated with our infrastructure. Healthcare isn’t like working at a tech firm where people understand and like technology. Employees want to use technology quickly and easily to do their jobs; they become frustrated when it doesn't work 100% of the time. If their computer doesn't work or they can’t easily log into a system, that leads to employee dissatisfaction and attrition. Add to that a backdrop of a nursing and physician shortage, and you’ll see it’s vital to keep employees engaged and loving their jobs. 

And now, better supporting our providers who are treating COVID-19 patients is absolutely essential. The last thing a provider wants to do or should need to do after being on shift for 20 hours, wearing PPE (personal protection equipment), and saving lives, is take time to figure out an IT issue. Our role in IT is to ensure those processes are simplified and easily integrated for our users. 

How did you partner with your HR and finance counterparts when evaluating technology solutions?

When I started at Nebraska Medicine, our legacy ERP system was well overdue for an upgrade. I partnered with our chief human resources officer (CHRO) and our chief financial officer (CFO) to learn how our technology was meeting and not meeting their needs for human resources, procurement, and finance. Our CHRO needed technology that enabled their strategic goal of recruiting and retaining top talent, whereas our CFO needed technology that enabled their strategic goal of containing costs without sacrificing the quality of the care our clinicians provide. 

In an attempt to get the full value out of our legacy ERP, we decided to move that system to the cloud. But due to the old process configurations and out-of-date technology, our limitations persisted. We needed a system that was easy for our employees to use and access from anywhere on any device. With the growing millennial workforce and emergence of the Generation Z workforce in healthcare, our talent expects usable technology. 

Cumbersome technology causes top talent to leave organizations, and without top talent, we can’t provide the highest quality of care. To create the most value for our employees and therefore our patients, we began evaluating new, transformational technology systems. That evaluation led us to selecting Workday (including Workday Human Capital Management and Workday Financial Management) for our enterprise in order to improve business efficiency and better support our employees in their day-to-day jobs. 

How is COVID-19 impacting change at Nebraska Medicine?

COVID-19 enabled our team to accelerate our path to digital transformation. The role of the CIO and other roles connected to IT transformation were already changing. But in mid-March, our organization shifted from in-person to virtual across all our IT departments and services. We went from 10% of our IT staff working remotely to 100%, almost overnight. 

From an IT perspective, we successfully pivoted to support technologies such as remote desktop and mobile device management. While all employees, with the exception of our clinical staff who needed to be onsite, moved to remote work, the most transformational aspect was moving to telehealth and virtual care; we went from five virtual visits a month to thousands a day. 

How are you using emerging technologies to improve the employee experience? 

First, in our legacy system, employees had to be on our network to do their jobs. That wasn’t user friendly or always accessible, so we needed an easy way for employees to access all the tools to do their job from anywhere on any device. 

We developed an app store portal where employees access all the clinical systems and business technologies they need in one place. Employees log into the Nebraska Medicine portal on their desktop, or they open the Nebraska Medicine app on their mobile device. Then they see a list of curated technology applications for all business systems and core clinical systems. Since the implementation, we’ve improved system adoption of our technologies with this centralized access.

We’re also excited about our summer go-live with Workday. The legacy systems we’ve been using are not user friendly or enabled for mobile.

Deploying the full Workday platform and the redesigned processes that come with the new system is also a transformational step for us. Our sales cycle with Workday was the most engaged process of any I've been through. Workday worked with us to understand our problems and propose solutions, so we can support our ultimate positive outcome at Nebraska Medicine: providing high-quality, cost-effective patient care. 

What feedback are employees sharing about the transition to remote work? 

A lot of employees are telling us how much they like remote work and want to remain remote at least part time because it’s supporting better work/life balance. Employees are spending less time commuting, which means they can devote more time to family and exercise. This shift has positive environmental impacts and health impacts. 

But it can't be a one size fits all. Some people are less productive at home, so they prefer to come to the office. For IT, we typically have 90 people in the office, but now we have about four or five people with appropriate social distancing practices in place. In the future, it would be fantastic to have a hybrid model. For example, when working on a new initiative or project, teams could come into an office space conducive to collaboration to work together on that project. Then after the project is completed, they could return to virtual work. 

How are you using technology to facilitate collaboration and connection across the business?

We have a company meeting every week via video conference where employees can voice concerns and ask questions about the business. We use instant messaging for quick conversations that can quickly turn into a video chat; we’re finding that’s equivalent to someone stopping by your desk. One team does a morning coffee break, via a 15-minute video call, to keep teammates connected. 

We’re also excited about our summer go-live with Workday. The legacy systems we’ve been using are not user friendly or enabled for mobile. The user friendliness, mobility, and cloud-based approach of Workday is really a game changer for us because it’s designed for anywhere, anytime use. 

Do you have advice for other healthcare IT leaders considering a similar digital transformation?

Work with the enterprise on what needs to transform and find solutions versus deploying technology for technology's sake. The reason to adopt new technology is to better support workflows, hardwire best practices, and support a workforce to enable anywhere capability.

 As businesses adopt cloud technology, IT leaders need to use their skills in data integration, security, adoption, and networking requirements in a new way. In healthcare IT, technology needs to support and work for employees to enable our miracle workers to focus on what they were trained to do: literally saving lives.

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