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Profiles in Leadership: McNutt makes sure IT’s voice is heard in healthcare’s future


One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)


Computerworld Magazine covers its industry to a T – make that IT. But amid major stories on automakers (“How IT is fueling Ford’s turnaround”) and competing systems (“Clash of the Clouds”), last Nov. 22’s cover features senior vice president and chief information officer Pamela McNutt of Methodist Health System in Dallas, who weighs in on “Healthcare IT: No Quick Cure.”


McNutt’s national stature also made her a wise choice to chair the policy steering committee for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, and she and her colleagues have spent time advising the CMS on what works and what doesn’t in the federal government’s new regulations.


“One reason I’ve been so active nationally is there’s a lot of concern about meaningful use,” she says. “Are the incentives achievable? Are we moving too fast on some things? Too slow on others?”


Besides CHIME, McNutt is active in HIMSS and AHA. She earned a Leadership Award from HIMSS in 2001 and was named CHIME’s CIO of the Year in 2002.


While she is very hopeful about the future of electronic medical records, she cautions that there is a long road ahead.


“There is a sense that healthcare has been behind other industries in adopting information technology,” she says, noting that healthcare traditionally spends 2.5 percent of its budget on IT while other businesses devote 5 to 10 percent on new technology.


But shedding ink-on-paper for computer records isn’t as easy as some people think, notes McNutt.


“We still have issues with normalizing the way data is collected,” she says. “Even being on the same vendor platform doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to exchange data seamlessly.”

Beyond that are the issues raised by HIPAA.


“ ‘Contradiction’ may be too strong of a word, but we face a real dilemma as healthcare providers in reconciling privacy and security of records. We want to provide quick and easy access to provide the best possible care, but at the same time providing privacy and security.


“The whole industry is struggling with this on a national basis,” she adds. “What rights does a patient have to control, restrict or direct where their data goes and, on the flipside, what right does the caregiver have to see a complete and accurate picture?”


That dilemma won’t be resolved any time soon. But the growing role of IT in healthcare means that there are opportunities for workers in that field. McNutt suggests it’s also a window for women to move into leadership.


In fact, one area where healthcare has shone, she says, is in the development of female leaders.


“Healthcare has always been ahead of other business sectors in having female leadership,” she notes. “When I started in IT years ago, it was a male-dominated field. When you go to meetings of our professional societies today, there are so many more women. I think healthcare was a field that was ripe.”


IT workers with nursing backgrounds are proving especially valuable, she says, but adds that there is plenty of room for more. “Clinical informatics is a very special skill set, and we’re 50,000 people short nationally,” she adds.


If Methodist has a head start, it’s because McNutt had the foresight to revamp its IT system in 2003.


“We made a conscious decision to start over in 2003,” she says. “Rather than continue to put puzzle pieces together, we decided to bring in a bulldozer. At the time, it was a bit of a radical approach, but it’s working very well.”

Tags: CHIME, clinical informatics, Dallas, Healthcare, Top 25 Women, executive, HIMSS, information technology, IT, Modern Healthcare, Pamela McNutt, Blog, chief information officer, CIO, College of Healthcare Information Management Execu, electronic medical records, female leaders, Methodist Health System