Leading into an Electronic Future
February 26, 2010
By Linn Parish
Outstanding Health Care Executive (Beyond Puget Sound)
When Tom Fritz came to Inland Northwest Health Services, the
Spokane-based organization was three years old and already had been through a
couple of CEOs. In Fritz, however, INHS found the leader who would make it a
regional force in health care services-as well as a national leader in health
care information technology.
Having just celebrated its 15th birthday, INHS now has slightly
more than 1,000 employees in all-twice the workforce it had when Fritz took
over as CEO-and its annual revenue crested $147.6 million in 2008.
|Tom Fritz, CEO of Inland Northwest Health Services in
Spokane, has not only brought medical records into the electronic era, but also
uses technology to help unify the company’s divisions, which include the
Northwest MedStar air ambulance service.
Judges for the Seattle Business Leaders in Health Care awards were impressed with
Fritz’s innovative approach, particularly in electronic medical records
networks. “He has created a real, national model,” said the panel.
INHS has three divisions that each account for roughly a
third of the organization’s revenues: St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute,
Northwest MedStar air-ambulance service and Information Resource Management.
They are operated separately, and each is profitable in its own right, Fritz
Clearly, however, the potential for growth-and the focus of
much of the organization’s efforts-lies in information technology and
electronic medical records.
“We hope we’ll be well positioned for the future and have
opportunities for expansion in the region,” he says.
Recently, INHS partnered with Google to provide patients
access to online health records through a system known as Google Health
Personal Health Records. INHS is also applying with the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services to participate in its Beacon Community Program
initiative, through which $235 million will be distributed to 15 communities to
expand electronic health records networks. INHS won’t know till later this
spring whether it will be one of the Beacon communities, but Fritz contends the
organization has a leg up in the competition. To be eligible for the program,
an organization and the medical community it serves must have at least 30
percent of its physicians participating in its electronic records network.
Already, two-thirds of the physicians in the Spokane Medical Society use
electronic medical records.
Fritz himself is at the forefront of health IT at the
national level. He is the American Hospital Association’s representative to the
board of directors for the National E-Health Collaborative, which is a
public-private partnership that’s trying to create a national health
information system. He also has served on the American Hospital Association’s
IT committee and recently finished a four-year term on the Certification
Commission for Health Information Technology.
While health care IT is a focal point for Fritz and the organization
he leads, this division isn’t the only one that’s growing. Late last year,
Northwest MedStar agreed to provide management services for AirLink Critical
Care Transport, which has operations in Bend, Ore., and LaGrande, Ore. Now, the
air ambulance operation can cover slightly more than 50,000 square miles a day.
Fritz, who has a master’s degree in public administration
from Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, has worked in health care for more
than 25 years. Prior to joining INHS, he worked for the governor of Delaware,
overseeing the state’s mental health programs. Before that, he spent a number
of years as the administrator at Eastern State Hospital, a public mental health
hospital in Medical Lake, Wash., just west of Spokane.
“He’s shown that it’s possible to both compete and
collaborate,” said Seattle Business‘
judges panel. “He’s provided stability in a very tough economy.”
Carlos Olivares, executive director, Yakima Valley Farm
Rand Wortman, president and CEO, Kadlec Health System
Since coming on board as Kadlec’s leader in 2001, Rand