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Published in CenterView on October 07, 2013

New CIO seeks to inject big-city mojo into DIS culture

By Bruce Coleman

At first glance, David Chou might not fit the traditional template of a chief information officer at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

He’s young. He’s highly energetic. He talks fast. He’s bursting with self-confidence. He’s urban.

He’s definitely new school.

When he first thought of Mississippi, Chou didn’t consider it the most interesting destination on his list.

It holds fast to tradition. It’s laid-back. Its people talk slowly and move deliberately. It’s rural.

It’s definitely old school.

At least, that was his impression before he snuck a side visit to the UMMC campus while attending a conference in New Orleans earlier this year. What he discovered about Mississippi in general and UMMC in particular challenged his initial perception to a great degree.

“I had a different vibe after coming here,” Chou said of that visit. “I’ve primarily been in major cities my entire life, so the culture shock was different. But what drew me here was the leadership.

“The campus stands out in terms of its potential to do well. This organization has to perform a valuable health-care service to this city and this state. In talking to leadership here, I realized these folks want to make a difference.”

The desire to make a difference has been a part of Chou’s makeup from an early age. A native of Pasadena, Calif., Chou earned the B.S. in computer science at Cal State University Long Beach and the M.S. in health-care management at Cal State University Los Angeles.

He said he developed an interest in health-care IT because of its potential to help others.

“It’s different from any other technology: we’re dealing with people’s lives,” Chou said. “We have to make sure the technology is very crisp, very sharp, because the things we create and implement affect others.

“We have to be very careful with what we do.”   

That sense of responsibility was reflected in his most recent assignment as senior director of operations at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Hospital, a multispecialty health-care facility under construction in the United Arab Emirates. Chou was involved in designing, implementing and testing more than 100 distinct applications for the hospital while managing a budget of approximately $300 million.

“The hospital itself was pretty much the size of this campus,” Chou said, “and it is a digital hospital; it’s completely paperless and everything in it is controlled by a computer and a network – blinds, TVs, anything you can think of. Designing that infrastructure had to be world-class.

“It’s an exciting thing, and it was a hard decision to leave, but I think I made the right choice coming here.”

Jim Wentz, chief financial officer, said Medical Center leadership also made the right choice in tapping Chou.

“We were looking for a visionary leader who had the experience and expertise to build on the success we have achieved over the past few years,” Wentz said. “It took us over six months and we literally went halfway around the world to find David.

“But he was more than worth the wait . . . UMMC has heavily invested in IT infrastructure and solutions over the past few years, and David’s job will be to get the most of that investment.”

That investment includes the 2012 implementation of Epic, the Medical Center’s electronic health records system, and the institution’s recent conversion to the DataArk legacy data system. Although the new EHR system has had its challenges, Chou has been impressed by how Division of Information Systems staff has addressed them.

“The team has gone through a tremendous change with the installation of Epic,” he said. “Obviously, with anything of that size, there will be problems. But it is installed and the team is a solid team here that has gotten some national recognition they’ve never gotten before. (See accompanying chart.)

“We are making progress and I think we should recognize that.”

Chou said it’s equally important to recognize that the Medical Center shouldn’t rest on its laurels.

“The industry is changing, and the department needs to adapt to those cutting-edge changes,” he said. “We need to make our department world-class. We need to get to the point where we’re sustainable, where we can expand and grow.

“We need to change the mentality of our staff, We’ve got to be the best – not just in Mississippi, but in the U.S. and globally.”   

The most valuable attribute Chou said he brings to the Medical Center is the ability to think creatively while addressing difficult issues.

“I think ‘out of the box,’ and that has been a tremendous help in solving problems,” he said. “I pride myself in being a problem-solver. I’m open to different ideas and that helps in terms of collaboration.

“I’m fortunate in that at the start of my career, I’ve been surrounded by leaders who have let me move around and explore and come to understand the way hospital systems work.”

What works best, and what he intends to instill among DIS employees, is a sense of responsibility and teamwork.

“We have a good team here; everyone’s trying to accomplish the mission of serving the community,” he said. “I’m really happy with the colleagues I have here – they’ve shown tremendous support and I think they will be good to work with. We just need to make sure they know what our strategy is. Once we set the direction and set the high metrics to achieve, we’ll get there.

“It’s an exciting time for the organization. We’re growing, expanding and I think we’re on a different level than where this place has been before.”

Recent UMMC DIS accolades

Recent accolades garnered by the Division of Information Systems include:

•  The Medical Center was ranked No. 226 on Information Week’s list of innovative users of business technology;

•  The Medical Center was listed among the nation’s Most Wired hospitals according to results of the 2013 Health Care’s Most Wired Survey in the July issue of Hospitals and Health Networks magazine; and

•  David Chou, chief information officer, and Dr. John Showalter, assistant professor of medicine and chief health information officer, each received the Up and Coming Health Information Technology Award from Health Data Management magazine.