Spencer Hamons

Ahead of one of healthcare’s largest industry events, HIMSS, Meghan Fintland of NetApp’s Corporate Communications sat down with Spencer Hamons, Regional Chief Information Officer, Healthcare Division, for another “People of NetApp Healthcare” interview. Spencer talks about what brought him to NetApp and the health of today’s EHR technology. With a 20+ year career in healthcare, Spencer has achieved many accreditations and awards including being named one of the Top Nine IT Innovators in the U.S. by Healthcare Informatics Magazine and honored with a cover story in CIO Decisions Magazine.


Meghan: Spencer, you joined NetApp a little over six months ago, can you give our readers some background on you and share why you chose to come to NetApp?


Spencer: Before joining NetApp, I served in several technology and healthcare roles across the public and private sectors. My love for healthcare and technology started when I served as a U.S. Army combat medic in the early 90’s, during which time I also had the chance to work on several WAN and terminal systems projects, leading to my new career in IT.


After my time with the military, I served in technology roles across several health organizations in Alaska, Colorado and Texas. Most recently, I was the COO and the CIO for Taos Health System in the Northern Mountains of New Mexico.


In 2011, I joined NetApp’s Neural Network, CXO advisory panel. This gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about NetApp and its role in global healthcare, giving me the opportunity to bring my real-world healthcare CIO experience to the company and the wider industry. By joining NetApp, I am now able to help develop the NetApp business, and assure our technology meets the needs of our customers.

Meghan: Describe the ecosystem of EHR technologies?


Spencer: As an industry we need to expand and look at how EHR technologies fit into the greater Internet of Things (IoT) concept. We need to discuss how to create value from the larger ecosystem. For example, a lot of physician offices have siloed information that is just available in their office. Even when a physician is part of a larger group practice, health records can be shared, but it’s still limited. We are seeing progress with the formation of Health Information Exchanges, typically at the state or regional level. However, there is still a long way to go. The information included in Health Information Exchanges doesn’t include the true continuum of patient care information such as dental, mental health, and STDs. There are also concerns with privacy as it can be risky to share this level of information.


Meghan: How do you see EHR adoption improving patient care, safety? Is it where we want it to be?


Spencer: There is still a big debate on how EHRs improve patient care, mainly by the direct caregivers themselves. These individuals are accustomed to being hands-on with patients. EHR’s require caregivers to interact with the computer while performing assessments and interacting with patients, which creates a perception that less time is spent with the patient. Direct caregivers feel there is too much documenting. And frankly their arguments are legit. But there is an upside, a huge upside.


Imagine being back in the 1990s; you are in the hospital for bronchitis; being attended by a specialist. He/She has your paper chart, discusses with you your illness and your progress, including important things like how you feel, where it hurts, etc. The doctor leaves your room, walks down the hall, perhaps sees colleagues and discusses other important matters, before arriving back at their desk to chart the patient feedback. During this time, a lot of information can be lost, forgotten or misremembered. Furthermore, this information can only be shared by physically transferring the chart from caregiver to caregiver, which has many obvious challenges.


With EHRs, caregivers can communicate and access patient status anywhere and anytime.


And simple things can be changed to have better interaction with patients while leveraging EHRs. For example, too many people put the computer at the end of the bed. By placing the computer right next to the bed with an angle where the patient can see the information being inputted the patient becomes more invested in their care and the process. Other options are available with mobile devices, but even that option creates changes to how people traditionally have provided care to patients. One of the most effective uses I have ever seen was giving doctors and nurses tablets to enter the patient information, and encouraging the caregiver to take time to actually sit on the edge of the bed with the patient. That simple act of sitting down with the patient helps restore some of the essential humanity back into healthcare.


Meghan: What are the biggest obstacles in adopting EHR Technologies? Why are providers shying away?


Spencer: Cost and change are the biggest problems. There is a huge financial risk if an EHR implementation fails. Most healthcare organizations spend 50-70% of their budgets on salaries. Not a surprise given the huge number of educated people required to make health systems run. By bringing in EHRs, we are also changing the entire daily workflow of how these people do their jobs.


However, change is now starting at the university level. Student nurses during their clinical rotations are being required to use EHRs. Doctors at large academic teaching institutions are also doing everything they can to implement EHRs into their curriculum. This started about five-seven years ago. Prior to that, residents did everything on paper. Adoption will come, EHRs will become the norm, but as with every change, it will take time.


Meghan: How does storage impact EHR technologies?


Spencer: Think about how you store pictures. Fourteen years ago you got married; your wedding was one of the most important events in your life. You may not look at those photos everyday but you do want to relive the memories. So you go to your computer on your anniversary and your pictures are not there. Instead, you find pictures of some other couple. That would be a horrible feeling, right? Now imagine instead of pictures it’s an MRI, a CT Scan or some other form of healthcare data, and you don’t have access to your information. This loss of data could have drastic implications to a patient’s wellbeing.


The storage layer is essential to EHRs today, tomorrow, 10 years from now. Data has weight and life. In healthcare, what happens to a patient today has impact to what care they receive 5-10 years down the road. There is never a good time for downtime in healthcare. At NetApp, we enable 24×7 authorized access to information stored and managed through our clustered Data ONTAP storage operating system with nondisruptive operations (NDO). Healthcare organizations can leverage NDO to help eliminate planned downtime and service their infrastructure without disrupting the authorized access to user data and applications. This becomes critical as healthcare is a 24×7 business.


Meghan: What is the future of EHRs? How will EHRs transform the healthcare industry?


Spencer: My wife and I talk about this all the time. She’s been a nurse for nearly 30 years. What we see in the future is around natural language processing (NLP), which is still in its infancy stage. But when it becomes mature enough it will effectively create discreet data in real time, which will help caregivers return to the true humanity of healthcare. Let’s go back to being in the hospital for bronchitis. In the future, your doctors will walk into your hospital room, discuss your case, and will come to a conclusion including your post hospital care without ever typing. All of that verbal discussion will automatically be recorded and integrated into the EHR. The EHR system will be intelligent enough to automatically populate the EHR, implement the course of action, and communicate essential information to the entire care team.


To learn more about what NetApp is doing in Healthcare visit the company’s booth at this year’s HIMSS Show. NetApp booth #3612.


The Corner Cube is a series of interviews and feature posts that highlight the people of NetApp. Whether you’re hearing  from an engineer, marketing, sales or executive leader, The Corner Cube brings you an unfiltered point of view around a variety of topics in technology and business today.


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