Photo of Demetrius DillardBy day, Demetrius Dillard works as an HTM professional for the Community Health Network in Indiana, managing medical device integration with EMRs. The rest of the time, he serves as founder and CEO of HealthTech Innovations, a consulting firm he launched this past spring. The company aims to improve healthcare by helping clients manage technology and improve organizational workflows in a value-based environment. He spoke with 24×7 to discuss what sort of changes healthcare organizations need to make now and what kind of pitfalls to avoid.

24×7: How did you first get involved in the HTM world?

Dillard: About 11 years ago, my mom was in the hospital. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. They put her in the oncology unit, so that scared us a bit. We were thrown into one of the most uncertain situations that you can be in as a family. An IV pump just kept alarming. We were nervous, not knowing if that was causing her pain.

The nurses couldn’t figure out what was going on. Next thing you know, a clinical engineer at the hospital came in, and in a matter of seconds, he was able to defuse the situation and not only make us feel better as the family of the patient, but make the staff feel better.

I thought that was very cool. I was an architectural drafter for an engineering architecture firm. I had literally left work from a long day of drafting and design when it all occurred. Afterward, it was like, “I love my job, but I think I’d like to be able to make more of an impact.”

24×7: What are your team’s qualifications and background? Why did you start this business?

Dillard: We started forming the business last November, and we’re officially a live company as of February of this year. Our team consists of three managing partners that have roots within the biomed industry, from managing technology within various federal, state, or county and community hospitals to working for independent service organizations. Over the past several years, we have consistently noted that there needs to be a strategy to reduce inefficiencies in managing healthcare technology.

24×7: Do you find that remaining an active HTM professional competes with or complements what you’re trying to do with your own business? 

Dillard: One of the good things about us staying active in the field on an everyday basis is that we’re actually putting our own practices into play at our current companies or organizations. We get live feedback from actual professionals. For example, I’m working on some workflow changes for our anesthesia department. They’re actually seeing decreased times and improved outcomes when it comes to data integration. To be able to provide real-world solutions and activities is a key point of what we do.

24×7: What kind of services do you provide to clients? Describe your approach.

Dillard: We are a healthcare operations consulting firm that specializes in healthcare technology. HTI has developed a unique service model (SOAR) that enables healthcare organizations to manage technology in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. SOAR lays the framework for assessing the technology, resources, and organizational structure for value-based healthcare organizations. Our strategies incorporate organizational goals to prioritize and identify potential pitfalls that may compromise operations and financial benchmarking. We partner with healthcare organizations to create a patient-centered support structure that meets the organization’s technology needs. The HTI approach creates a centralized service model that is ideal for strategic planning, fiscal planning, and staff development.

The SOAR assessment digs into the financials and the equipment planning—or lack thereof—of an organization. Once we get that, we do a deep assessment and prioritization of service contracts, staffing, staffing workflows, and the technology as a whole. What we’ve found through studies and research is that certain organizations believe in the “work it ’til it fails” model. As technology improves and allows us to become more efficient with our time and resources, we sit back and allow them to see a more holistic view with our reporting and outcomes, so they can better manage that technology moving forward.

24×7: When you partner with a new organization, what types of issues are you looking for?

Dillard: We’re checking for outdated risk equipment, service contracts that are not necessarily conducive to the business of the organization, and service contracts as a whole. We can look at service contracts and equipment history and determine whether or not a full-fledged service contract can be knocked down to a parts contract or just a labor contract, or just get rid of it altogether. Customers tend to believe that a service contract is more valuable than an on-site staffing model. If you hire a professional who has the competency-based information to support a CT scanner, then why have an entire service contract? You have the resources and knowledge base on staff to do it.

24×7: What factors should organizations consider when evaluating medical device contracts?

Dillard: A few of the factors to consider are the financial risks involved in obtaining or eliminating the contract, resources available to manage or maintain the equipment, and usage of the device. We tend to lean on financial footing to justify a service contract or not. It is imperative that we get technology departments and clinical departments, and also the C-suite, to buy into the understanding that they have to keep engaged with the customer. If we eliminate the service contract on a CT scanner, how does that impact the radiology staff?

24×7: How do you work with on-staff BMETs and HTM professionals to improve technology management?

Dillard: We have to be able to create a shared need or allow them to see the shared value in making these changes. We partner with the on-staff BMETs as well as HTM professionals to obtain critical feedback and understand the existing processes and workflows. They act in a change-advisory capacity to ensure that the organization, as a whole, is on task to move toward a centralized service model.

24×7: What steps should healthcare organizations be taking now to address cyber security? 

Dillard: When you look at cyber security, it needs to be from the perspective of a CE-IT collaboration. We suggest that most HTM departments cannot tackle this by themselves, and with resources such as Cisco professionals at the table in many facilities, it shouldn’t be tackled alone. Therefore, that CE-IT partnership is critical. When we look at patches and firewalls, there are a number of HTM departments that are not as versatile in these areas, nor do they have the resources or knowledge to maintain or implement security. HTI firmly believes in developing these IT partnerships and strengthening organizational technology bonds.

Security in healthcare is a major topic for discussion and poses a serious threat if a proactive approach isn’t taken. At this time, there are no solutions that will ensure blanket protection across medical devices. Proper policies must be put into place that incorporate different measures such as password protection, hard drive encryption, and even physical restraints that prohibit electronic protected health information to be accessed from medical devices.

24×7: What do most healthcare organizations overlook when it comes to streamlining their operations and technology management?

Dillard: By nature, healthcare organizations exist to treat patients, but as time has progressed, they have an added function of running as a business that includes operations support services such as clinical engineering, IT help desk, and plant maintenance, as well as procurement. Due to these added functions, it is essential that organizations effectively plan and manage their operations and technology. Healthcare organizations often overlook strategic technology planning and investing in their internal resources to better prepare their service lines for future growth.

24×7: What kinds of internal resources should they be investing in? 

Dillard: We tend to look at the staff. Let’s say we go into a smaller healthcare organization and they do not have a security professional on-staff. It would behoove them to look into staffing a certified security professional, because the vast opportunities and benefits would outweigh anything that would affect their budget. They would become a well-protected network.

We also look at the C-suite. The chief technology officer is a position that allows staff to tie in the technology to the business of healthcare. All too often we see in healthcare that the information technology services are being very, very highly valued, and we look at CE or healthcare technology management as sort of a forgotten stepchild. These two need to be able to work in collaboration in order to create a better outcome for staff. The CTO encompasses that vision to be able to move forward. When we talk about investing in those internal resources, we talk about investing in the systems that allow these professionals to move forward.

24×7: What is the most common mistake you see healthcare organizations making?

Dillard: One of the most commonly overlooked principles is that technology is not properly vetted in cross-functional teams that include all key stakeholders. This allows critical concerns to be left unanswered that may adversely affect existing technology or processes. Technology departments don’t talk across service lines. You’ve got to be able to create that unified front, not only for your customer base and clinical staff, but for your own technical staff. Your technical staff needs to say about themselves, “We are all under the same blanket. We are not in competition with each other. We need to make decisions to help the business and the organization move forward.”

24×7: How do you ensure the changes you make stay in place?

Dillard: A key objective is to identify shared value. This can be achieved by defining roles and responsibilities within the support structure in the healthcare organization. We touch base with the organizational leaders and the project sponsors. We stay engaged and identify barriers. It’s inevitable—you’ll have individuals who are resistant to change. You’ve got to be able to create those moments when you share data with everyone, including those naysayers. Once you share that improvement, you begin to change that culture of resistance. We like to set a monthly call with any client or customer so we get at least 30 days’ worth of data change.

24×7: How has your experience as an HTM professional affected your approach with clients? 

Dillard: I’m still involved, so when a new nursing standard comes out, we see the good points and also the pain points. It allows us to see firsthand when a new patient safety goal list comes out how our technology services are affecting those goals. If you’re not really working in the profession, you kind of have to go by hearsay. All three of us are working directly with the nursing staff and the C-suite and seeing the changes that have to occur. To be ahead of the curve is of great value to us as a team. 24×7

Jenny Lower is associate editor of 24×7 magazine. Contact her at [email protected].