The Grill: Healthcare CIO Catherine Bruno

This CIO helps steer a multimillion-dollar grant program that leverages IT to improve healthcare.

Catherine Bruno, who serves as vice president and CIO of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems (EMHS), says she and her team are helping to change people's lives by improving the quality of their medical care. It takes innovative IT to make that happen: Bruno has developed and deployed an electronic health record system, a computerized provider order-entry system and a bedside medication verification system, among other accomplishments. She is also executive sponsor of the Bangor Beacon Community grant program, which brings together a dozen local healthcare organizations focused on improving medical care while reducing costs through the use of IT. In May, she received an MIT Sloan CIO Symposium 2012 Award for Innovation Leadership.

Catherine Bruno

Vice president and CIOEmployer: Eastern Maine Healthcare SystemsFamily: Married for 35 years, with three adult children and three grandchildren.Hometown: My father was in the Air Force, so I moved around a lot and learned to be very adaptable. I was born in Birmingham, Ala., but I didn't live there more than a year. The longest I lived anywhere was in Columbus, Ohio. I lived there 13 years, and I lived in Dallas 12 years. And now I'm in Hampden, Maine; I've been here eight years.Do you have any long-term goals you'd still like to achieve? I'm learning to play the pipe organ. When I retire, my goal is to be a music minister at church.

What has been the biggest accomplishment for you and your organization? Working closely with our providers on electronic health records. It improves our ability to have high-quality healthcare, to make sure we're doing all the things we need to do to take care of our patients, that we're meeting regulatory requirements, that we're able to take that information and then analyze it to improve the care we offer. And we have been able to leverage that for the $12.75 million grant for the Bangor Beacon Community. That money, from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, goes toward improving people's health through care management facilitated by information technology. We chose four chronic diseases -- diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- and our primary care practices, EMHS and our community partners use care management and electronic health records to identify the issues with these chronic patients. [As a result] we reduced hospitalizations and ER visits by 40% within the first year of the grant.

What was the biggest challenge in getting this done? Traditionally we have worked in silos; there hasn't been an information flow among the various healthcare organizations in a community. So one of the things we did in the Bangor Beacon Community is share information among the practices and other hospitals in town. We had to build structures and governance to facilitate that collaboration and put structures in place for that information flow.

What's the big take-away from that experience? The key methodology I used was to make sure that the leaders of the organizations were involved and they chose clinicians and care managers and other people in their organizations to be involved with the grant and that everything was open and transparent. We had a retreat to kick it off to make sure we had buy-in from the key leaders in the community, and then we provided strong project management services and data analysis services that helped staff get the work done. We would follow up on milestones. We managed it like a collection of projects, and bringing that project management discipline was part of the success as well.

What's your biggest challenge moving forward as CIO? The pace of change has been accelerating, especially in healthcare. There's a lot of opportunity to expand and improve our electronic health records. We have regulatory projects like the move from ICD-9 to ICD-10. It's how we code to be able to tell the insurance companies what we did. It's like a Year 2000 project because of the format and the size of the field of the changes, and they're ubiquitous in our systems. We're doing that with a deadline of Oct. 1, 2014. On the electronic records side, we have meaningful-use incentives and requirements for that, and EMHS is a pioneer accountable care organization, so we're developing new systems and partnerships for that.

What is your secret to succeed in those areas? It's not really a secret. You surround yourself with great people. The challenge when you have growth like we had, in terms of size of our staff and the number and complexity of projects, is developing management leadership skills as quickly as you grow. Fortunately, I've got strong folks in the leadership roles at EMHS. That's the key, because it's my job to make sure they're going in the right direction and they know what the strategy is.

You're an executive sponsor.How does that differ from being a CIO? For the Bangor Beacon Community, the executive sponsor is like being the CEO for the grant. I was responsible for [ensuring] that the grant was organized, that we had appropriate governance and project management, that it was executed appropriately and according to what we said we were going to do on the grant application.

You earned an MBA in finance.What does that degree give you that an IT leader can't get on the job? It really gives you a broad business background, and the nice thing about the finance concentration is you can talk to chief financial officers. I thought about being a CFO when I got out of school, but I really fell in love with the information systems piece. And I think [the degree has been] very valuable in securing the resources we need to get all this work done in IS. It helped me to move into management, relate to terminology, the decision-making process, all those kinds of things. I would actually recommend an MBA for someone who wants to be a CIO rather than a master's in IS.

-- Interview by Computerworld contributing writer Mary K. Pratt (

Read more about healthcare it in Computerworld's Healthcare IT Topic Center.

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