Tanya Townsend, senior vice president and CIO of New Orleans-based LCMC Health, explains how lessons on agility can move healthcare organizations forward.

Nov 07 2022

Q&A: LCMC Health’s Tanya Townsend on Industry Change and Workforce Retention

Tanya Townsend, LCMC Health’s first CIO, looks back on her career in healthcare IT so far and sets priorities for the years ahead.

Though women make up 66 percent of entry-level healthcare staff, the percentage shrinks when the focus turns to more senior roles, where women make up only 30 percent of C-suite positions, according to McKinsey research.

Tanya Townsend, senior vice president and CIO of New Orleans-based LCMC Health, can certainly remember when she was the only woman at an industry event or in an organizational space, but she’s happy to see more women in healthcare leadership roles.

Townsend, who also sits on advisory boards for healthcare technology companies, is the 2022 CHIME board chair — the third female board chair in 30 years. “I’m hoping to share our stories so we can encourage those future women in healthcare and let them know they can pave their own way,” she says.

Townsend chatted with HealthTech about her career so far, how she’s focusing on workforce retention and how lessons on agility can move organizations forward.

Follow HealthTech's coverage of CHIME22 on Twitter at @HealthTechMag.

HEALTHTECH: How has the healthcare sector changed in the years since you became LCMC Health’s first CIO?

TOWNSEND: When I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be, I was getting my degree in healthcare administration. This was at a time when everything was still very paper-based. Electronic health records really were in their infancy, if they existed at all. I think it was a good time for me to learn more about what the future held for EHRs and how I needed to learn more about that. I went on to get my degree in medical informatics. It was a risk at the time because nobody really knew what that was. Now, of course, informatics is a term we use all the time, but back then, it was not so common. I’ve been in the field for over 20 years now.

I started out as an analyst and then moved into project management and leadership roles. I’ve been a CIO now for about 15 years. The journey around EHRs and healthcare IT has grown over those years. When I started my career, things like computerized physician order entry were not accepted or adopted. Things like mobile computing, remote workforce and moving from focusing on the provider through those implementations to now focusing on the patient — I would say it’s been a journey. The first decade of my career, it was a lot of hard work, and it took a long time to do implementations.

Implementing an EHR was a long process. Where we’re at now, everything’s very agile. We don’t have the luxury of spending 10 years doing implementations and having everything perfected. There’s agility and innovation not just for implementations but also user adoption.

When I joined LCMC Health, we were independent hospitals doing different things for technology solutions and processes. My journey here has been around integration and what I’ll call “system-ness” — putting in the same technology platforms and setting standards across the organization.

HEALTHTECH: How have digital solutions influenced your organization’s approach to patient-centered care?

TOWNSEND: The first part of my career was really focused on the clinician experience. Now, we're shifting that focus to continuing to take care of the clinician but also the patient. How do we ensure that we’re looking at it through both lenses? Patients have choices, so we need to make sure that our experience is just as good as our competitors’. What do our patients want? How do we make care convenient? How do we make it easy to access our organization? How do we add transparency to the experience? We are in a very competitive landscape in healthcare. So, that’s what we’re putting a lot of focus on now.

One of the most recent projects we worked on was advancing our online scheduling capabilities within our patient portal. Patients want to use an app; they don’t necessarily want to use a call center. They want the convenience they get in retail or food service. We did a big optimization project to ensure we opened access in the most convenient way. We’ve been live now in our first pilot of that implementation, and we’re seeing an increase of 15 percent per day of patients that are scheduling through this platform. Within just one month, we have some metrics to show that patients like and want this convenience.

DISCOVER: How to implement patient portals and improve patient experience.

HEALTHTECH: What developments are helping improve the clinician experience? What have you done at LCMC Health that you would recommend to other organizations?

TOWNSEND: We’re putting a lot of focus on our workforce now, what with shortages in so many areas. Currently, we’re targeting the nursing side: We have a project called Project Joy, where we’re partnering with nurse subject matter experts and our chief nursing officers. We’re asking how we can make things more efficient within our EHR and our technology experience to make nurses’ lives easier and potentially happier. Project Joy was kicked off this summer. We’re measuring that we have saved our nurses 1.8 million clicks per month in our organization, or more than 1,000 hours per month. That’s giving time back, and hopefully making them happier. 

We’re also focusing on our physicians and how we can make them more efficient. Now we have data to be able to target what we want to work on. In the paper world, you didn’t really have that kind of data to understand the analytics and predict where those opportunities are. We’re really leveraging data to understand how our clinicians are spending their time so we can be more targeted in how we approach that.

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HEALTHTECH: How have conversations around security evolved since you started in your role?

TOWNSEND: When I got my degree in medical informatics, at that time, everything was still very paper-based, and the concern was patient privacy when moving to adopt EHRs. I put a lot of focus at that time on information security, but again, it was more about patient privacy.

Now, the landscape has evolved from protecting patient information to making sure we’re not at risk for cyberattacks. Because I already had that interest, I stood up our first information security office back in 2016. As the first CIO, I guess I’m also the first CISO as well. I’m glad that we did that, because you don’t stand those up overnight. It takes a while to really put a robust program in place. I feel like we got ahead of the curve, particularly with the volume of cyberattacks and the maturity of those types of attacks in recent years. It’s not just about putting in technical solutions. We’re doing a lot around user education, because attackers are getting smarter about social engineering and phishing campaigns.

BE PREPARED: Know the top 3 cyberthreats facing healthcare organizations today.

HEALTHTECH: What healthcare IT lessons did your organization learn during the pandemic that have shaped strategies moving forward?

TOWNSEND: We learned to be agile. We had to be. Everything was so fast-paced because we were constantly responding to so many changes, and we moved to virtual wherever we could. We didn’t have the luxury of time to perfect everything. We got very innovative. We learned how to fail fast, to try it and move on quickly if it’s not working. We did a lot at a very rapid pace, and I’m actually very proud of the results.

The workforce became much more competitive. I think we’re all realizing that we’re competing for the same IT talent, and not just IT but the whole workforce. We had to get creative and really understand how to recruit and retain our people. We’re also making sure that we have a diverse workforce.

From an IT standpoint, we’re really focused on automation because of financial constraints, and not having the workforce we used to have. How do we automate as soon as possible, make things more efficient and be a great place to work all at the same time?

Tanya Townsend
We didn’t have the luxury of time to perfect everything. We got very innovative. We learned how to fail fast, to try it and move on quickly if it’s not working.”

Tanya Townsend Senior Vice President and CIO, LCMC Health

HEALTHTECH: You’ll appear on a panel about women in healthcare IT leadership at the CHIME22 Fall Forum. What will you discuss there?

TOWNSEND: I’m proud to be the 2022 CHIME board chair. I will be the third female board chair in 30 years. I do think it’s worth a pause to just even say that and note how far we’ve come as women in STEM and in this organization. When I first joined CHIME in 2006, there were many occasions where I would go to an event, and I was the only woman in the room — for IT industry events but also in my own organization.

We have to share our stories. I’m so happy to see so many more women at these types of events, and so many more women at the table with me now, but I think it’s worth telling these stories so that we can encourage future leaders in our organizations who are looking up to us and asking us how we got here. That’s what I hope to talk about more, and I also hope to learn from the panelists as we continue to promote and develop a diverse workforce.

HEALTHTECH: What are your top priorities for the next year?

TOWNSEND: My organization is still on that journey of becoming an integrated delivery network. We’re now six hospitals in the New Orleans market, but these were historically six very independent organizations that had their own cultures and their own tools. We’re still working on that journey toward system-ness. How do we integrate to be more like one complete organization? Continued standardization and continued culture development as a combined organization. We’re still working on a lot of that type of activity.

Second, we’re going to be more data-driven now, because we have access to that data. When we went live on our EHR back in 2018, there were five hospitals. Now there are six, and we have more data now in the same database, so let’s use it. We’re going to be doing more around how we leverage that data and do more predictive analytics on how we manage our finances and business decisions in addition to our patient population.

EXPLORE: How healthcare is moving the needle on social determinants of health data.

Last, I think many of us in healthcare IT are now working on enterprise resource planning. We spent the past couple of decades focused on EHRs; now, we’ve got to focus on another side, which are our ERP tools. Human resources, finance and supply chain: those functions need updates. So, we’re in the middle of an ERP implementation.

HEALTHTECH: What are three healthcare IT trends you’re watching for 2023?

TOWNSEND: One is how the hybrid workforce or remote workforce develops beyond the pandemic, especially around the culture piece. We all went from being in the office every day to never being in the office. There’s going to be a shift back and then some kind of balance. As an industry, we’re going to be thinking through that.

However, I do think remote work and remote patient care is here to stay. We will, from a technology standpoint, need to continue to advance in the virtual care space, continue to provide innovation in how we manage our patient population remotely and continue to automate where we can.

One last important industry trend is data, data, data. I think we’re just at the beginning stage of how we can leverage data.

Photography by Daymon Gardner

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