Mark Eimer, senior vice president, associate CIO and CTO at Hackensack Meridian Health, says the organization streamlined collaboration and simplified experiences when it migrated to Google Workspace and Chrome.

Apr 21 2022

Q&A: Mark Eimer Reflects on Google Workspace and Chrome OS Rollout

Hackensack Meridian Health, headquartered in Edison, N.J., streamlined collaboration and simplified experiences when it underwent a major transformation during the pandemic.

The mantra of Mark Eimer, senior vice president, associate CIO and CTO of Hackensack Meridian Health — C2S2, or consistency and collaboration, simplicity and security — reflects the organization’s experience with the cloud-based productivity tools: Chromebooks offer a consistent experience anywhere, Google Workspace improves collaboration across teams, Chrome OS provides a straightforward end-user experience, and security is baked into the Google platform. “Moving to Google has really enabled us and given us a platform to start to build on top of that,” he says.

Along with deploying Chrome OS devices across clinical and business environments, Hackensack Meridian Health is also partnering with Google Cloud to use artificial intelligence and machine learning in clinical workflows; for example, with disease screening and detection. Eimer tells HealthTech about the decision behind the migration, the onboarding process and the lessons learned from rolling out new technology during the pandemic.

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HEALTHTECH: What inspired the full transition to Google Workspace and Chrome OS devices?

EIMER: Like many healthcare systems that have grown over the years, a lot of tools were patched together. Experiences both inside and outside the four walls were totally different. We struggled with collaboration, and there were concerns about security and ransomware.

We looked at Google back in 2017. It’s got security woven right into the platform and allows us to give an identical end user experience, whether you’re in the office or at home.

When we went full bore and converted the workforce in March 2021, it was a fully integrated platform. We get a lot of compliments about the collaboration capabilities, the user experience. For some, it’s still a learning curve, but I would say most are enjoying the platform. Because their kids use Chromebooks in education, I have a lot of team members that come to me and say, “Hey, my son or daughter showed me how to do something that I needed to get done for work.” And team members are proud that they, in turn, can show their child a thing or two about Google.

EXPLORE: What to expect with continuing remote work in healthcare.

HEALTHTECH: Can you share more about the onboarding process and getting everyone on the same platform?

EIMER: There was a lot of planning, a lot of education and demonstration. We built a whole resource site, a lot of webinars. One of the analogies that I used quite frequently is when you buy a new car, you don’t take another driving test. You already know how to drive. When you buy a new car, you get in and you acquaint yourself with the dashboard, where the lights are, which side is the gas. You acclimate yourself to the new vehicle; Google Workspace is the same way. If you know how to use the basic functions in Office, those all exist in the Google world. You don’t need to learn how to drive again.

We also established over 500 team members as Google ambassadors who came on board, did training and helped answer questions across the network. We found that to be really helpful, to get the people who can speak the language of their peers to explain what’s going on.

IT was first to the Chrome browser and Google Workspace. We were the first ones to roll out Chromebooks. We moved to nonpatient care areas next, and now we’re actually at the patient care sites. We have 50 or so ambulatory practices up and running on Workspace and Chrome OS. We have about 300 more to go. And we just migrated our first hospital, Palisades Medical Center, to Chrome OS. Now we’re working on our first academic medical center, so the journey continues. Our goal, just like Google’s, is to do no harm. We don't want to do any harm to patients, which is why direct patient care areas went last.

HEALTHTECH: What were the immediate benefits users saw with this transition?

EIMER: When we made Chrome the default browser, a lot of issues went away, and calls to the service desk went down. For applications that specifically needed Internet Explorer because of compatibility, we redirected users to IE through the Chrome browser.

Then, we migrated over to Google Workspace. There was about a 30 percent reduction in spam because of the integrated AI and machine learning in the platform. Staff loved the collaboration capabilities; Google Drive is awesome. But it was still a little clumsy with Google Workspace on top of Windows. Now, we’re in the phase of rolling out Chrome OS. The Chrome browser and Google Workspace on top of Chrome OS is a much more seamless, integrated, soup-to-nuts environment.

The big pivot for us was when the HMH CEO, in March 2020, said all nondirect patient care personnel needed to work from home. That’s great, but none of our previous technology worked well remotely. We quickly purchased 3,000 Chromebooks, put them in kiosk mode and sent people home. We had to purchase web-based call center software that would work on Chromebooks, so I had call center staff working from home. And because we’re an Epic shop for the electronic health record, we also have a large Citrix deployment.

Sending people home with Chromebooks to access Citrix, being able to get to their Windows apps — it was a huge success, and we were able to do it in three weeks.

RELATED: Learn more about sharpening clinical communication strategies for better care.

HEALTHTECH: What lessons have you learned during the pandemic, especially around digital transformation and mobility?

EIMER: Trying to get things done before the pandemic was all business case, ROI, how much are you going to move my stuff, all of that. When March 2020 came around, I saw the MacGyver come out in everyone. There was no bureaucracy; it was, “Get it done.”

We didn’t have a large telehealth practice up, but when we needed it, we got telehealth up and running in two weeks. In three weeks, we had people provisioned to work from home and within a month we had contact centers operating remotely. We were so concerned productivity would fall, but it was just the opposite. From a healthcare perspective, every barrier was broken down. It was solution-results oriented. Go get it done. Go find me a solution.

Mark Eimer Quote

There were a lot of things that I would say we were skeptical of, that we didn’t know how it was going to work. We basically used an agile methodology approach where we would try it, and if it didn’t work, we’d pivot and move on to something else.

Before the pandemic, we only had people working in New Jersey. We currently have people working everywhere, opening our talent pool. Now that the hybrid workforce is here to stay, every solution that we design moving forward is about a mobile workforce. Any device, any app, anyplace, anytime; it just has to work. We’ve totally changed our design principles and our execution.

Our patients are looking for us to provide them the same convenient experience they now get everywhere. Everyone knows how to use a QR code to pull up a restaurant menu. They want to see that same ease from their healthcare experience. So there’s been a lot done on that front in the past two years.

LEARN MORE: Discover how digital-first strategies are shaping healthcare.

HEALTHTECH: What advice do you have for other healthcare organizations interested in making a similar transition?

EIMER: No. 1, you've got to get executive-level support, and you’ve got to be 100 percent transparent about where the gaps are. It's not a panacea. It's not going to solve every problem, especially if you're going to move from Microsoft Office to Google Workspace. You’ve got to make sure the executive leadership team understands that, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re ready to address the gaps when you start to roll it out.

I can’t tell you, in the beginning, how much organizational change management we literally had to do, and we’re still doing it. It’s not over. It takes a village to raise a child. Well, it took a village to implement this change. We had a lot of preparation before the March 2021 rollout.

Photography by Yvonne Albinowski

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