Listening is her superpower

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02/28/2024

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Physician/chief medical information officer Emily Webber wins Changemaker in Health Award: “I really do think my work every day is deeply and immediately connected to providing care and making care better for the children of Indiana.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

For Dr. Emily Webber, a Red Shoe pin she wears reminds her why she is here. The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments and contributions to family-centered care at Riley Children’s Health.

“One of my most meaningful recognitions is the Red Shoes Award,” the physician said, noting she was nominated by a patient’s family at Riley several years ago.

“It was not for any of the heroic things that happen every day at Riley, but for simply making time to listen,” she said. “I keep that pin near so that I can always remember the facet of healing that depends on truly listening to people and their needs.”

It’s a superpower, she believes, and it must be cultivated and prioritized.

Listening is critical in Dr. Webber’s other pivotal role as well – chief medical information officer for Riley and IU Health.

And for that, she recently was named one of the most influential women in health information technology by the international Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

The Changemaker in Health Award celebrates inspirational and innovative healthcare leaders for their passion to improve care through information and technology.

Dr. Webber will participate in a panel discussion next month in Orlando with other HIMSS’ Most Influential Women in Health IT Changemaker Award recipients.

FOLLOWING HER PASSION

An English and biology major at IU Bloomington, she knew she wanted to be a doctor and work with children. But the now-46-year-old did her training at a time when technology in healthcare – including electronic medical records – was still new. But it was poised to become a bigger part of the job.

As its importance grew, so did her curiosity and passion for how it might help improve patient care.

Her work at Riley began in 2008 as a pediatrician, doing inpatient medicine as a hospitalist. But she quickly began working on health IT projects as well.

In 2017, she took on the chief medical information officer role for Riley, followed in 2020 by a similar role for IU Health, sharing duties with Jason Schaffer.

For Dr. Webber, working as a clinician and information services expert really is the best of both worlds.

“I’ve always thought it helps me do both jobs better,” she said. “I love it. I love working my clinical shifts with the amazing doctors and nurses at Riley. It grounds me and energizes me every time.”

At the same time, she added, “there is so much passion and drive and creativity in the technology team.”

MAKING CONNECTIONS

She gets excited when talking about new ways of using technology, both for her clinical team and the broader IU Health team because for her, it’s all about improving the patient experience.

Staying curious and open to change is key.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to be supported in both my clinical and technology roles. I really do think my work every day is deeply and immediately connected to providing care and making care better for the children of Indiana,” she said.

“What a gift that I get to do that work. I love spending time with our patients and our team. They will tell us, if we’re listening to their whole experience, how to do things in a way that is effective and impactful.”

She works five to seven clinical shifts a month at Riley, including on 7 West, where her rapport with team members was evident during a recent visit.

Jen Englemann, clinical manager for 7W, has worked with Dr. Webber since she joined the faculty as a pediatrician 15 years ago.

Seeing the physician/chief medical information officer advance in her career is gratifying, Englemann said, “because I know she is advocating for us on a much higher level, especially related to technology.”

“She is an excellent advocate for our patients and a champion for our team. She’s always providing great care, but she is also a great collaborator with nurses and other disciplines,” Englemann said.

When Dr. Webber is on service, it’s a relief for everyone on the unit, the nurse manager said, “because she’s great at communicating with everybody – patients, families, team members.”

THE VALUE OF CHANGE

Good communication is a guiding principle in Dr. Webber’s work, both clinical and technological.

A good example, she said, is a recent change in how patients/parents are being notified about appointments. Before putting that technology change into practice, the team had to talk to patients, front office staff, physicians, radiology, pharmacy, marketing, etc. to work through issues.

“Everyone got to weigh in and say, ‘Here’s what needs to happen for this to be a success.’ But it’s a great example of a project where it’s a win-win-win all the way around.”

Change for the sake of change is not how she and her team do business.

“With healthcare and especially technology, there needs to be purpose and value to our team and our patients,” Dr. Webber said. “That is a lesson I’ve been grateful for the chance to learn. It can feel like change gets done to you in technology. It goes so much better if everyone’s involved in the change.”

The goal is not to make people’s jobs harder, though it might seem like that sometimes.

“People have to see that it brings value to the work they do every day, that it helps them connect to their purpose here.”

“SWIFTIE” IN THE HOUSE

Married to a psychiatrist (Michael) and the mother of two, Dr. Webber’s life outside the hospital revolves around her kids’ school activities, church, exploring local parks and cooking.

She is not too proud to call herself a “Swiftie,” thanks to the influence of her teenage daughter. The two attended Taylor Swift’s Cincinnati concert last year, and the doctor is almost giddy about the promise of the singer’s new album release.

“I love her music, and I love what she’s doing … tapping into a collective pulse and shared experience.”

That’s what technology does when it’s used for good, Dr. Webber said.

“When it works right, it connects you to the right people, the right place, the right time, the right way.”

Technology is something we want to perform seamlessly in the background, and it’s obvious when it doesn’t, she said, as the conversation shifted to AI – artificial (or augmented) intelligence.

With progress comes both risk and reward, but the potential for good when it comes to technology is enormous, Dr. Webber believes. Being at the table as these ideas take shape is not just valuable, but necessary.

“What I’m encouraged by is that a lot of technology groups in this (AI) space are turning to experts in healthcare to ask, what is the value, what is safe, what is ethical? There is so much opportunity to take things that don’t need the skill of a human … so we can let people focus on interacting with our patients and providing care.”

As a physician, her job is to keep her patients safe. The same holds true in her role as an information services expert – to keep their data safe.

“For me, technology is a way to help influence, I hope in a positive way, something that touches our patients and our team every day. That helps me feel incredibly connected to our mission,” she said. “The healing we do – technology doesn’t replace that.”

Rather, it can help remove burdens and give team members more time to make those human connections.

“Technology is here to serve the care we provide, not just six months from now but six years from now and beyond.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org