by Cheryl Bentsen

Interview: Evelyn Lockett Woods on Health Care IT

May 01, 20013 mins

Evelyn Lockett Woods is the CIO and executive vice president for support operations for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), which evaluates and accredits some 19,000 health-care organizations in the United States. At JCAHO’s headquarters in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Woods manages an IT staff of 100, plus 85 joint commission employees and 15 to 20 consultants. CIO: what are the challenges for it in the troubled health-care sector? Woods: We build to meet a wide range of technical capabilities. We’re putting together an extranet, but our customers, the health-care facilities, have such a wide range of IT capabilities, some still don’t have fax machines. Our surveyors using laptop technology are doctors, nurses and hospital administrators, and we had a very long learning curve with them. But now I can hardly keep up with their demands for adding functionality. Everybody knows that the health-care industry is slow to change, and that’s true on the technology side as well. Our board is made up of physicians and health-care professionals, and it was a big problem getting them to agree to pay programmers more than what the medical people get. It’s tough convincing them that to have a strong IT organization, you have to pay the market rate.

You managed the y2k job for the joint commission. Your thoughts on that now?

Y2K was so anticlimactic that people still question whether we should have spent as much as we did on [it]. People fail to realize that not everything we did was for Y2K. After making so many changes to some systems, it made more sense to replace the entire system or revamp entire modules and add functionality we needed for other purposes. As a result of Y2K, the technology infrastructure of the county overall has improved.

How do you tackle staff recruitment?

We’re a small company with about 1,100 employees and don’t have a lot of name recognition. We downsized in IT for the first time last year, mostly because of cutbacks in health care and mergers and acquisitions. We lost five positions, but 10 employees left because they thought the downsizing meant the company was in trouble. We’re rebuilding now. I’ve made a commitment to the staff that we plan all of our projects based on eight-hour days. Of course, when we have a problem, we will come in and do what we need to do, but we will not plan project schedules based on long hours. We are committed to hiring people with basic experiences and training them, plus we give them a chance to work on new technology early in their careers. That’s something that few young people are likely to find going to work for a big organization.