by Sierra Reed Marketing Manager at Paubox
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An interview with Scott Segerstrom: Biggest threats to medical practices
by Sierra Reed Marketing Manager at Paubox
The Paubox Encrypted Interview Series allows us to chat with leaders in healthcare IT, compliance and cybersecurity to pick their brains on trends and best practices.
In this Encrypted Interview, we chat with Scott Segerstrom, Information Systems Director at Christie Clinic, one of the largest physician-owned, multi-specialty group medical practices in Illinois.
Early Career and Professional Growth
Sierra Reed: Before you joined Christie Clinic, you worked at Advocate Health Care and have been in the industry for 30+ years, how has that experience helped you in your current role?
Scott Segerstrom: With my role here at Christie Clinic, because I was able to understand what it is to work for a large complex IT organization, I was able to learn a lot about how to provide top-notch customer service.
When I joined Christie Clinic, I was able to transfer that skill set along with me and teach that to the team members that I brought on board. Taking how a large multi-billion dollar organization operates, and then trying to distill it down to an organization the size of Christie Clinic and make it just as effective. It’s been fairly successful.
Sierra: What led you to information technology as a profession as a whole?
Scott: I figured out early on that I was just good at it and it came to me naturally. I was actually in clinical healthcare during the very first part of my career right after college. That was a time when personal computers were just starting to make their entrance into mainstream business.
Because everything was working on mainframes at that point, I figured out how to make the software applications work and the personal computers work in the business environment. I found I just had an affinity to make it work.
I made that transition after 10 years in clinical care and I was able to take my clinical experience and marry it with what I was learning in IT. I’ve been in healthcare ever since. So I’m able to take the technical stuff and talk tech to the tech people and talk clinical to the physicians and the nurses and marry those two conversations.
Sierra: That makes sense and you have to do what you’re passionate about. So that’s great. Then how did you end up at Christie clinic in particular?
Scott: I was working in the Chicago suburbs at Advocates corporate IT office and it was actually more for personal reasons than anything else. My youngest daughter, at the time, was a senior in high school, and she was heavy into sports.
My family was living downstate, about two hours south of Chicago and so I was commuting on a weekly basis. So I decided that when she became a senior I was going to start looking for opportunities back down state.
Not because I was unhappy with Advocate but I just wanted to be closer to home. So this opportunity at Christie opened up when my predecessor retired and I was able to land the job.
Sierra: Okay, well fabulous. What do you think the biggest challenge or mission you have at Christie Clinic currently is?
Scott: Christie’s ownership model is that the business is completely independent and owned by physicians. So each physician is a shareholder in the business. We have 30 plus different clinical departments in the business. And each clinical department is kind of like its own little thing.
So physicians tend to make decisions based upon their little area of operation without necessarily paying attention to what everybody else is doing.
So when you’re trying to manage the IT side of things for an organization, that structure makes it challenging to try and make sure that you’re moving the whole business forward in the same direction while still accommodating all the individual variations.
So that’s a different model from everything that I grew up knowing. My first IT job was with a physician owned business, but it was a single practice of 15 physicians. And so we all rode the boat in the same direction. After that a couple other organizations were either hospital owned or a corporation where the physicians were actually employees of the business.
It was a much different nuance to how you get things done because we had the executive teams that tended to do more mandating and dictating to the position of how we were going to do things and then coming back to the other side, now, where the physicians want something and they have to figure out how to make it happen. It has made for some interesting conversations.
Sierra: How has information technology evolved from when you first started to now?
Scott: There is much more mobility, much more access, much more security. It’s setting up security’s environment so that you can still allow for the amount of access that everybody wants while still protecting the business from itself. It is something that has changed dramatically over the last few years.
Biggest Threats to Medical Practices
Sierra: Right and obviously amongst COVID-19, what are the biggest threats that you think medical practices need to be aware of right now?
Scott: Well, there’s still a lot of bad actors out there. There’s a lot of nefarious groups across the world that try to break into healthcare institutions and they see us in a vulnerable state right now simply because you’re either overworked or understaffed because you have people spread all over the place.
So there are different opportunities that they can tap into. So paying attention to all that stuff is one of the biggest targets people need to focus on. In addition to that trying to make healthcare safe for patients.
I don’t mean only patients in a hospital setting. So you know, Christie Clinic is not a hospital, we don’t have patients that stay overnight, we are strictly an ambulatory clinic. So, patients come to us for care. But patients have a fear of going to any healthcare operation and getting cross contamination from somebody else that happens to be in the facility.
And that’s true for the ambulatory side as well as the acute care side. So trying to make patients comfortable is a threat to the business. Not necessarily a threat to it, but a threat to the business.
As an IT person, I’m trying to come up with new and novel ways to be able to make patients comfortable, using technology tools to help provide that level of safety and that level of satisfaction for them while still allowing them to be seen.
Sierra: I actually went to the doctor this morning and I didn’t feel safe until I got there. They had safe protocols when I arrived, but all I was told beforehand was to wear a mask. Upon arrival, I saw that they had rearranged the seating and they asked me if I had any symptoms. So I felt safer when I got there and was glad that they had initiated all of these new protocols.
Scott: A couple of things that we’ve done here in the clinic, like a lot of other organizations across the country… We’ve launched video visits. So if a patient is really uncomfortable with setting foot inside of the office, we do have the ability to have a video visit with them.
I’m working right now on a solution to more or less turn our parking lots into waiting rooms. So when patients arrive for a visit, all they have to do is send a text message to us and say “I’m here” for my visit and then we can reply letting them know how long they will have to wait in the car.
Giving them instructions so that we can have that asynchronous communication between us and the patient without having to tie up phone lines and have a person only being able to have that one on one conversation. I’m getting close to being able to launch that. So that’s coming.
Sierra: That’s an amazing idea. If I had known that was the protocol for my doctor this morning, I would not have been fearful to go in. So what a great idea.
Scott: Yep. So those are some of the technology things that we’ve thrown at COVID. We obviously, like a lot of places, drive thru for testing. We recently reopened the business after essentially shutting down ambulatory or outpatient procedures. Part of our COVID pre op testing protocols were that all ambulatory procedure patients had to be tested for Covid prior to their surgical procedure.
So when the pandemic first hit, we opened up drive through testing for symptomatic patients. We’ve since converted that over to drive through testing for pre op patients. Patients that need to have those surgical procedures can drive through testing for Covid before their surgery. We also have set up curbside convenient care.
We’ve set up, at one of our facilities, curbside convenient care, where patients pull into an outdoor covered canopy area and they call in on a specific cell phone. Then the staff go out to the car all dressed up in gowns and bring the patients in. Being able to provide the technology to make those operations function is great.
Those are some of the rapid response teams I’ve had to put together in order to make those things happen quickly when the clinical operations decided this is what we want to do.
Maintaining and Upgrading Information Technology
Sierra: I didn’t even think about all of the other IT components that go into those different items. So thank you for sharing. My next question is how you continuously maintain and upgrade IT at your clinic to thwart these new threats amongst COVID-19?
Scott: Well, one of the things that I learned how to advocate and that I’ve brought with me here to Christie, is that you never want to put all your eggs in one basket.
Every vendor that comes to market with some technology, solution, whether it’s like Paubox, with email encryption or whether it’s Mimecast with anti spam and all their services that they provide. Every vendor always has a blind spot to some components of the spectrum.
So it’s always in the business’s best interest to have multiple vendors that mesh and interact well with each other. So that’s one of the things that I brought here.
I use Paubox for email encryption. I use paubox too recently… we use it to connect our marketing platforms for email to patient marketing campaigns so that we can get COVID information out to patients through email.
I didn’t have that type of tool in place before. Email marketing is just one thing that we didn’t do. When Paubox came out with Paubox Marketing here recently we tapped into it and connected our email marketing vendors.
It gives a security level to the messaging that goes out, but it also allows it to look like it’s coming from Christie Clinic rather than from some random email system. So there’s that. I’ve got a couple of different security vendors that go on the other side of email security.
Paubox is pretty much the encryption side, then I’ve got Mimecast for the spam side. Then I use CrowdStrike, for security as a service and anti writer stuff. So each one of those components is what I think an IT executive covers my entire footprint of technology.
Future of the Healthcare Industry
Sierra: Where do you see the healthcare industry going in the next 10 years?
Scott: Consolidation, consolidation, consolidation. There is going to be so much consolidation in healthcare and when I say that, I don’t mean just in the Healthcare Provider segment.
While I think healthcare organizations are going to be merging at some point and that by 2050, you may see 20 or 30 large healthcare conglomerates across the country.
But even if on the payer side, everybody looks at healthcare and they see the provider side but they always forget about the payer side and how complicated the payer side in this country really is.
A lot of the things that have happened with the pandemic and with some of the rules and regulations that the government has come out with to try and lessen the blow to the healthcare industry as far as what’s being reimbursed, especially when it comes to telehealth for video visits and telephones.
As you know, those rules, those regulations, I think my personal thing is that they’re going to end up being made permanent. So the payer markets are going to have to either accept those federal regulations and make their reimbursements just as permanent. Or, you’ll see a flight to a single payer system happen a lot more quickly than what a lot of people may want to see happen.
Sierra: How do you keep up with industry trends? Do you have any good podcasts that you listen to or any blogs that you read? Influencers or new newsletters that we should be following?
Scott: Well, I’m a member of CHIME. So College of Health Information Management Executives. I’m a member of HIMSS. So I use both of those platforms, pretty much on a daily basis for a lot of information that I need to be able to ingest and understand where my peers and where the industry is going as a whole.
I disseminate that information out to the rest of Christie’s executive team so that they understand where it is going in the healthcare industry.
There is another platform called healthsystemcio.com. They have a really great YouTube channel and regular video meetings where they get healthcare IT executives from across the country from different healthcare systems and different vendors.
They get together with three or four people and just have a conversation about a topic and it’s a really interesting listen. They have one or two of these sessions a week.
So there’s a lot of content and a lot of information that we get from that. I do listen to the Paubox podcast probably about two or three times a month. It’s not necessarily one that I get to as often but I do tune into it every once in a while.
Sierra: Well, good to hear. I have done two so far. I’m about to publish one today. So happy listening. Episode 19 so get ready. So my last question for you is what do you do to de-stress and relax when you’re not managing all of the information technology for Christie Clinic?
Scott: I do like my wine. I do like to go hiking. I love nature, all kinds of nature. Unfortunately, in the flatlands of Illinois, your view of nature this time of year is some level of corn, some level of soybeans unless you go somewhere that’s got a few more trees, but there are certainly not many hills in my neighborhood. But I do like to watch a lot of movies. So it just helps me escape.