This Week Health
May 7, 2021

Building Strong Teams and Health Communities with Reid Stephen CIO of St Luke’s

Host Bill Russell was joined by the VP and CIO of St. Luke's, Reid Stephan, to talk digital strategy, how to lead a high-functioning team, innovation, and partnerships.

St. Luke's Background

Reid Stephan, VP and CIO at St. Luke's

Since 1902, St. Luke's has served its community as a not-for-profit Idaho-based health system, covering Southwest Idaho and areas of Oregon. They are the largest Idaho-operated payer and private employer.

Stephan's teams has focused their agenda where they are not meeting the mark in patient experience. With a new emphasis on digital also comes an opportunity to better serve their organizations' community, he explained.

"That is really the lens we look through to hone in and get the clarity of what we should focus on. And it's very easy at that point then to tie that back to the system's strategic objectives that are in place, that are supporting the supporting pillars, to then accelerate that work and sequence it and prioritize it in the right way," he said.

The Three C's of Design Disease

Their team has moved our off the office and into the hallways, where they learn the needs of the patients come by observing them. Stephan explained that relying only on consumer information acquired through conference calls, conference rooms, and cubicles are the "three c's" of design disease.

"You might understand the functional needs of what they're after, but you're missing the social and the emotional context that might really be the driver to truly innovate or truly meet their needs in a way that they embrace," he said.

Stephan has encouraged his team to observe and ask questions, which helps identify opportunities that clinicians and patients may not think to ask. And these innovations are not always the newest and shiniest pieces of innovation, Stephan explained, and thinking this way advocates against the false notion of innovation.

"Innovation is simply doing something that you have never done before. It doesn't mean that no one else hasn't done it; it doesn't mean they have been doing it for years, but if it's new to you and if it fundamentally improves and enhances the experience, that by definition is innovation," he said.

Digital Strategy Importance for Rural Health Networks

Having a digital strategy and innovative mindset is important for St. Luke's as their team cares for a mixture of urban and rural areas. The health system's dynamic plan of meeting needs includes two different approaches in digital strategy.

"In an urban setting, there's much more of a likelihood that those consumers will have access to broadband coverage and cell coverage. Some of our rural markets may still have dial-up at home. So you’ve got to figure out the last mile. Make sure they're not disadvantaged purely based on where they geographically live," he said.

The health system has looked to address disadvantages by looking into partnerships with companies for extended broadband connectivity or adding remote-based care options.

In additional patient care, voice recognition will be a compelling opportunity for St. Luke's in the future, as it is a common complaint of clinicians that they need to move away from patients to type out their conversation, according to Stephan.

On the opposite end of things, he also plans to increase provider experience with digital tools. Being partners with Microsoft, Stephan hopes to actively find ways to better leverage the capabilities from their recent acquisition of Nuance to create a better workflow for their providers.

As for the rest of 2021, the digital front door is a priority. He and his team have recognized they have unique needs that cannot be modified on the Epic platform. According to Stephan, they are likely developing an app on which they can have this front door experience.

Reid's Journey to Healthcare

With a background in cybersecurity at Hewlett Packard, Stephan began to question if he could do something more in his field after his daughter began asking what he did for a living.

"She kept asking me why. 'That's what you do, but why do you do it?' It left me haunted, realizing...a lot of what I did day-to-day was focused on a 90-day view of how we make changes to bump up the stock price at the next shareholders' earning report," he explained.

He began his journey at St. Luke's as their first dedicated cybersecurity position, which gave him the opportunity for him to build the program from the beginning.

Through this experience, Stephan found he had a strength for building high-performing teams. He has recruited premium cultural-fit candidates by identifying a similar mindset and approach for work styles, organization, and operationalization. Without these core foundational personalities matching up, Stephan has experienced challenges, because technical skills are easier to grow than a change of mindset. 

Growing St. Luke's Culture

Moving through roles, he has understood that many leaders are reluctant to assess the culture. According to Stephan, if he surrounds employees with the right team and structure, he will get the best out of them. This involves starting with an honest assessment, having difficult conversations, and altering roles. 

"Those conversations can be grueling and difficult, but the fruit from them can have a multi-month or a year impact on the culture of your organization. I always start there by assessing the culture and then not being afraid to make the changes to usher in the kind of culture and the unity that you need," he explained.

According to Stephan, there are signposts that the right culture is present. One of these is ensuring his extended leadership team is feeling safe to be fully candid. If anyone is afraid to speak in meetings, this reflects a lack of trust among the team.

He explained how his ideal candidates are attracted to a culture where team members feel the work they do is safe and celebrated; they don't feel micromanaged; and are encouraged to take reasonable risks. More than their weekly paycheck, employees now have a new reward that compels them to stay, Stephan explained.


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