HIM Leader Interview Series: Cindy Zak on Managing Change, Increasing Employee Engagement, and Looking to the Future

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We interviewed HIM leaders from across the nation to find out the secrets to their success. Cindy Zak, Executive Director of Health Information Management (HIM) at Yale New Haven Health System explores the importance of change management, strategies to increase employee engagement, and the future of HIM leadership.

Cindy Zak HIM DirectorWhat are your top day-to-day challenges facing you and your organization today?

We’re in a constant period of change. I have several change initiatives in place that I am spearheading, providing vision and strategy for, and identifying the staff that need to serve as project managers. For example, I’m spearheading the implementation of information governance across the health system. We want to standardize the approaches to managing information amongst different hospital departments within the System.

Healthcare is now an information-based industry. With the rise of EMRs, healthcare has come to realize that information is an asset. Data has to be accurate. All this data — from big data to mobile tech — transforms to information and helps drive innovation. In healthcare, innovation means creating new ideas and solutions that help patients, but it’s also about becoming more efficient and effective.

Another healthcare challenge is making sure the employees are engaged. I want to make sure employees know who I am, that my door is always open. So, I visit with my staff, interact with them, have conversations with them. We have employee performance reviews in place; managers report to me and are expected to make sure employees are meeting the performance goals we’ve established.

What strategies do you use to tackle these challenges?

We have an employee engagement committee that really drives employee appreciation and education initiatives. We have an employee of the month, for example, a staff person who has excelled in their specific position. They meet with leadership and are acknowledged more widely for their strong service. We also have a department of the month. A whole team will be rewarded with a luncheon or breakfast.

We have other engagement initiatives for all employees, such as quarterly breakfasts in which staff can meet with leadership, discuss hot issues, ask questions, and be educated on change initiatives. Every quarter we have a coding roundtable within HIM. We also celebrate HIM Week, throw dessert get-togethers, and have extensive department meetings where we make sure everyone is aligned on overall strategy.

I make rounds and visit with staff throughout the campus just to chit-chat with employees in HIM. I need to be seen so that my employees know that I’m always there to answer questions, that my door is always open.

It’s essential for HIM leadership to share their passion, enthusiasm, and love of the profession. It’s all about helping others to understand the issues we are promoting and why HIM is important. If you are passionate about it, you can help other departments and employees get on board with our body of knowledge. That’s how it worked with information governance. I was able to help transition our system health information committee and pilot the IG program with AHIMA by talking to all our senior leaders and sharing my passion.

What your secret to your success as a HIM Director?

Connecting with people and talking about the importance of HIM has really driven my success. It’s about partnering with other departments to make sure things are moving forward. Strategy is so important for a HIM director. That we anticipate our role in the future to remain relevant and remember that we’re leaders who define strategy, and create a roadmap for HIM within our organization.

Many people don’t even know what HIM is. They are stuck into thinking it’s the file room. We’re not the file room. We’re information managers, transitioning to information governance. We have a body of knowledge that’s relevant and needs to be promoted across the organization. So, we work with medical staff, clinicians, finance, tech people and more — we connect across the board.

What’s the next biggest thing facing HIM in the coming years?

One thing that will continue to be a big challenge moving forward is recruiting good people. We’re competing with other organizations and vendors for coders. We want to recruit the best and the brightest. It’s very exciting to work in a healthcare organization — every day there is a new challenge, you have a good mix of fun and hard work. People spend a lot of time at work, so they have to enjoy it.

In the coming years, I also see HIM leaders advancing and entering into the executive level. We have a body of knowledge that is integral to the success of healthcare organizations — on information integrity, quality of information, confidentiality, and privacy. These are core issues facing healthcare today, and we need HIM leaders in the executive level to guide us towards success.

Looking for more on how to make your hospital function more smoothly? Check out our eBook on how to reduce lost revenue in your HIM department.

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