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Published in CenterView on March 26, 2012
Dr. John W. Showalter, center, with EPIC implementation team members, from left, Sara Buelow, Arron Vickery, Cindy Gibson and Michael Perry.
Dr. John W. Showalter, center, with EPIC implementation team members, from left, Sara Buelow, Arron Vickery, Cindy Gibson and Michael Perry.

Showalter brings experience, professionalism to EPIC system implementation

By Bruce Coleman

As the deadline for the University of Mississippi Medical Center's conversion to a revolutionary electronic health record (EHR) approaches, one of the chief architects of the institution's planned integration of the EPIC system has been gaining visibility.

Just this winter, Dr. John W. Showalter, assistant professor of medicine and chief medical information officer, has been featured discussing UMMC's EPIC implementation in an online video for HIT Exchange, was quoted in a Today's Hospitalist article about mobile devices  and has been asked to "guest blog" for the Health Data Management trade journal.

Dispensing clinical electronic health management expertise comes naturally to Showalter, who has hosted his own blog at johnshowaltermd.com for more than a year. It's also what led him to UMMC last summer.

"I specifically came here to help lead EPIC implementation," Showalter said. "The scope and size of the project here interested me. I wanted to transition to the EPIC platform because I think it's a better system."

That belief was honed honed by Showalter's clinical background. After receiving his M.D. from Penn State's College of Medicine in 2005, he served as an internal medicine resident and medical informatics research fellow while he completed his master of science in information systems there in 2011. His experience with Penn State's database-driven Cerner system convinced him that EPIC's workflow- and physician-focused methodology was a better approach to EHR.

"We're taking UMC from an almost non-existent clinical informatics place, and on June 2, it will be one of the top 50 integrated health systems in the country," Showalter said. "That's exciting."

But he maintains it wasn't the main reason he decided to pull up stakes in PA and move to Mississippi. His sister, Stephanie Showalter-Davis, has been on the University of Mississippi School of Law faculty for 11 years, and Showalter has become well aware of how the Magnolia State is perceived from a health-care standpoint.

"This was an opportunity to come down to a place that is currently ranked very low for its health care and to help do something that will really improve the care patients receive and the way care is delivered," he said. "To me, that is much more rewarding than just tinkering with a system in a state where the health care is already pretty good.

"We are drastically changing the way care is delivered in central Mississippi and integrating it in a way that really should improve the health of Jackson and the surrounding areas."

Showalter directs a team of 15 physician "champions" and numerous nurses who are responsible for helping to train and mentor their colleagues on the EPIC system. And although one might expect resistance from some physicians cautious to embrace a system that will "move significant cheese," Showalter said he has experienced the opposite.

"Normally the hardest part of my position is working with hesitant physicians, but I haven't had to do that," he said. "The physicians have been excellent to work with. Physician buy-in I would currently rate as excellent. They're very invested and it makes my task much easier."

Part of the reason so many physicians have been on board with the EHR integration can be attributed to Showalter's unique perspective as a clinician, according to Ellen Swoger, chief applications officer.

"While we have a considerable number of nursing clinicians on the EPIC team, John's physician clinical experience has helped the team better understand the physician perspective in support of building the physician workflows in EPIC and to prepare a physician-oriented training curriculum.
"John has an easygoing professional style and the ability to make the technical jargon understandable to the clinical ‘non-techie' staff."

That style hasn't gone unnoticed by non-clinicians, either. Arron Vickery, EPIC program manager, said Showalter "possesses the personality and people skills to bridge the gap between ‘techie' and ‘clinical' and get us all on the same page.

"I don't think we would have had any chance of meeting our June 2 go live without his leadership."

It's a mutual respect that was cultivated not long after Showalter arrived. Division of Information Systems staff thought so much of their new CMIO that they threw a baby shower for Showalter and his wife.

"And I thought Pennsylvania was a truly welcoming place," he said.

Now Showalter must draw on all the good will he can muster while he helps prepare the Medical Center for an unprecedented institution-wide systems implementation. It's a daunting challenge that he prefers to call an "opportunity."
"There's probably no more central factor to EPIC's success than people," he said. "The software, servers and data center will be all ready to go on June 2. But if people don't want to do it, it won't matter.

"I've been very impressed with where the campus is culturally. Training started last Sunday (March 18) and our classes were overbooked. This campus is mentally very prepared for this implementation."