Health Tech: Jane Hite-Syed On How National Government Services’ Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Wellness
An Interview With Luke Kervin
Understand your customers and stakeholders: Human-centered design (HCD) is a problem-solving approach that places the customer, consumer, or end-user at the center of every decision. While the goal is to make an organization more productive, accessible for its employees and reduce the stress for clients, HCD ensures the sum of the customer experience fosters empathy and connection throughout every touchpoint of the customer journey. It is all about people and understanding their needs and expectations.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Hite-Syed, Chief Information Officer at National Government Services.
Ms. Hite-Syed serves as the National Government Services Chief Information Officer. Jane is leading the National Government Services’ Information Technology organization through a digital transformation that aligns with the government’s emerging technology path. Jane has a proven track record of success managing change in large organizations and prides herself in starting everything at the most human level. Her leadership style and interpersonal skills are reflected in the culture and results of the organization.
Jane was recently named a FedHealthIT100 Award Winner, an award that recognizes individuals who are making an impact, going above and beyond, and driving innovation and positive outcomes in the federal health IT community. Jane was also honored by receiving the Leading for Impact: Women in Leadership Award, recognizing her leadership and mission-focused strategic programs across the federal technology and consulting community.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was born in Louisville, KY, and raised in Columbus, IN, the youngest of six children. Being the youngest of six, four brothers and a sister, my parents had a taste of it all. My dad said to me, “Snug (my nickname), compete with your brothers and be the best businesswoman you can be. And always wear clean shoes!” This set the course for me in business and the caring of my shoes. I swam on my high school swim team and was recognized for my grades. I think of how proud my mom was and remember her sweet smile watching me succeed. I feel that pride now watching my own son. When choosing a college major, I chose nursing because I wanted to care and be of service to people. I took an elective computer class out of interest, and it changed the course of my life. It showed me the many other ways to care for people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I do a lot of coaching and mentoring and keeping my “door open.” I really learned the importance of this time together when I first traveled to India to visit my husband’s family. There, I discovered that their perception of time was very different from mine. For most of us in the United States, our culture dictates that if we schedule a meeting at 1:00, we are on the line at 12:59 to hop to it. One of my first evenings in India, we had dinner plans at 8:30, and when I arrived downstairs ready to go at that time, I was surprised to see I was the only one! Aziz’s family encouraged me to sit down, and “have a cup of tea,” and stated, “what’s the rush?” What I realized in those moments of deep frustration was the importance this culture places on making time to be together, to relax and enjoy one another’s company and talk about what is important. What I learned in those times of sipping tea and listening to the family engage was that one should always “Make time for tea!”
We all need to take time to share and listen to other’s views, perceptions, and knowledge. Making time for tea is one of my key priorities. My calendar is always open to listen and engage our team members. I am dedicated to being available and ensuring that my team is supported in achieving their personal goals and our key objectives as an organization.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It takes a village for all of us to go through our journey but there is one woman who always floats to the top for me. I worked for her early in my career at my first job with Electronic Data Systems. She was the VP of Healthcare and she could spot new talent. Her words were “they have stars in their eyes.” She saw the stars in my eyes and gave me the first real opportunity with a tough customer. She mentored, coached and casted a beautiful leadership shadow for me to learn from. She left a lasting impression on me and today I use those same words, “stars in their eyes,” as I look for strong talent in building our organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Early in my career I read the book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” became my mantra when I would feel out of my comfort zone. It taught me to make good decisions, see the positive in everything, and most importantly, trust myself.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The three traits I would use to describe myself are authentic, positive and calming. I am passionate about my team and the people who do the work day-in and day-out to help us achieve our goals as a company. I value servant leadership by supporting associates to grow into their potential. I’ve also seen firsthand what listening, showing empathy, and developing trust can do to change the culture of an organization. When joining National Government Services, an authentic leader was needed. Being transparent in my thoughts and delivering on my words was key to changing the organization and setting the course. There was a fear of change amongst the associates and the leaders. I used positive reinforcement and celebrated the smallest of successes which eventually led to huge leaps forward in our digital transformation. My trust in myself gives me the calm needed in those challenging times when deadlines aren’t met, or projects become more costly than anticipated. Being a leader who is authentic brings out the best in people and drives results.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
NGS supports federal health agencies in their mission to deliver essential healthcare to millions of Americans through outcome-driven innovations, tackling the unique healthcare challenges that our population faces every day. NGS seeks to embolden our customers and partners as they evolve to meet the needs that exist in federal health.
We work to bridge technology gaps to make Information Technology (IT) an enabler of healthcare, whether this is providing more efficient access to data or automating workflows to drive efficiencies. In 2021, health organizations were introduced to significant challenges, especially across the federal health landscape. From vaccination services and monitoring, shifting to a remote workforce, to an overall surge in telehealth use and services, IT leaders needed to pivot to address these challenges while providing positive outcomes for patients, clinicians and other stakeholders.
NGS is working to address health disparities, improve the total experience across the federal health landscape, streamline healthcare data management and address behavioral health challenges. Looking beyond 2022, we are seeing a continuing trend of IT leaders turning to emerging technologies to help increase efficiency through automation, improve secure access to data and reduce administrative burden.
How do you think your technology can accomplish this?
Our goal is to empower federal health agencies to improve lives and communities. As a supporter of major federal health agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Health and Human Services, NGS serves over 27 million people in 37 states and 5 U.S. Territories, 240 members of Congress and 447,000 healthcare providers. We focus on helping our partners solve their most complex problems. With over 50 years of experience helping federal health agencies execute their health program missions, our team has a constant pulse on the federal health arena and understands what’s needed for programs to operate seamlessly and provide better health outcomes.
I’m proud to say that our team has been solving these problems and continues to address these challenges each day. We understand our role is to not only to improve efficiencies and reduce provider burden, but to keep data secure; our IPC Portal solution does all three, and more. We support the Center for Medicare & Medicaid’s (CMS) Innovation Payment Contractor (IPC) program. As part of our work, we have issued over $4 billion in CMMI Model payments for the IPC program through 12 payment models. We saw an opportunity to help modernize the program and improve the provider experience by introducing more online and self-service tools.
Primarily designed to replace a cumbersome and expensive manual operation, the IPC portal evolved into an important digital information channel for CMS to reach providers. It provides real-time account information and moves paper forms to an online platform, which in turn saves tremendous amounts of time, effort, cost and reduces risk. It eliminated 100% of the processing time of the paper CMS Form-588 by enabling the provider to directly enter and submit data via the IPC Portal. While accomplishing its stated goal of moving the process online, the IPC eliminated processing paper forms while providing CMS with full transparency to the process.
Our team also had a successful implementation of the Correspondence and Publication System (CAPS) that replaced the legacy Medicare Part B letter system in December 2021. In the federal sector, letters are mandated — providers and beneficiaries must have access to paper as letters are routinely created to support Medicare Part B in responding to requests received from beneficiaries and providers. The implementation of the new CAPS system was able to add immediate value to our internal operations, automating the process to generate letters in support of those we serve. The new system decreased the average letter creation time and provided more intuitive navigation and editing capabilities. From a technology standpoint, this modernized application was created using a low-code platform and modern API integrations that significantly increased efficiency through automation.
Not only did this implementation drive cost-reduction, but it also increased collaboration and learning for all involved. The recipe for success was largely driven by the close collaboration between the IT and business units who worked together to ensure project success.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Typically, when a person is in need of healthcare, it is not a time when they should be burdened with paperwork and repeating their story across the multiple providers of care. I went through the healthcare system for breast cancer treatment in 2008. I was fortunate to be part of breast cancer center that made me feel as if I was their only patient. There was no repeating my diagnosis to my treatment team because the team collaborated on my care and was able to see the electronic records of care throughout my journey.
Fast forward to today, I have seen the opposite with a sibling fighting for his life due to a mesothelioma diagnosis. I saw the pain he and his spouse went through having to repeat the threatening diagnosis and keep track of their own records as they moved through the system. The provider of care not having the full story caused much frustration and, on a few occasions, setbacks. So, to be able to do this work that provides our health care system with secure access to data in the most efficient and timely way is a passion of mine. It matters to the human on the other end of the diagnosis.
How do you think this might change the world?
Improved technology will help us provide the best experience to those we serve every day. It’s important to understand the positive impact technology can have on an organization and its processes, especially in the healthcare realm. We help our customers focus on getting critical services to those most in need — a lesson that can be applied across all sectors.
Utilizing technology can lead to better health outcomes by saving organizations and frontline workers time and reducing costs. For example, technology can unburden health providers by eliminating time spent on paperwork and other administrative tasks and allow health professionals to focus on providing exceptional patient care. We can also use technology to identify health disparities and investigate why there are issues in the first place, who they impact, and how we can provide those in need with necessary health services.
When leveraging any form of technology to support your work, it’s always important to proceed with caution. It’s imperative to invest in highly secure solutions and maintain the ability to pivot if unintended outcomes occur. Understanding the technology from the ground-level, how it fully operates, and how it communicates with the user are key factors to examine. New technologies require highly skilled talent to support them, grow them and maintain them. Implementing technology without a clear return on investment or improved outcomes can hinder modernization progress and lead to significant cost overruns.
When implementing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning solutions that result in automated actions, there are even more considerations. Technology leaders need to ensure that all of these automated decisions can be explained, supported, and ensure that the intelligence does not contain bias or lead to further health disparities and inequities.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example for each bullet point)
First, understand your customers and stakeholders: Human-centered design (HCD) is a problem-solving approach that places the customer, consumer, or end-user at the center of every decision. While the goal is to make an organization more productive, accessible for its employees and reduce the stress for clients, HCD ensures the sum of the customer experience fosters empathy and connection throughout every touchpoint of the customer journey. It is all about people and understanding their needs and expectations.
NGS just successfully launched a redesigned provider portal on February 28, 2022, for its Medicare Administrative Contracts. The new portal utilized HCD to create a seamless experience for Medicare providers by consolidating two legacy portals, creating a highly intuitive user interface and layout, and simplifying processes such as verifying patient eligibility.
Second, bring your customers and stakeholders into the process and iterate: Collaboration with your customers is essential to better serve those in need. Collaboration truly improves the way teams can connect and work together to solve primary issues. In the long-term, a solid, collaborative work environment leads to enhanced innovation, stronger processes, and improved communication.
With the redesigned provider portal, we gave a small group of Medicare providers early access to the portal to gather feedback and adjust. This early period of collaboration allowed our teams to confirm that our solution was meeting the needs, gather candid feedback, and validate that the system worked as designed in a production environment before the official launch date. Involving our stakeholders in our development and testing process helped to ensure that we released something that substantially improved the lives of the providers we serve.
Third, build technology thoughtfully: think about security first, build with lean reusable components, scalable infrastructure, and simple intuitive design for the user: With any application rewrite or modernization effort, a holistic view of the architecture is needed. Preemptively thinking about technical debt, scalability, and cost can save a significant amount of time and money. Building new applications with composable architectures enables rapid scaling and limits the creation of technical debt and unnecessary customizations. NGS employs a consistent and thoughtful approach for all application modernization initiatives.
Fourth, maintain agility and the ability to pivot as needs and requirements evolve: Knowing how and when to adapt to new situations is key to developing a successful solution. Having that understanding of the social setting and where issues reside allows decisions that reflect the needs of communities. In the federal space, we’ve seen the global pandemic task agencies with collecting and managing an increased amount of healthcare data, all from remote environments. Data for decision-making has been critical to the federal government in combatting the pandemic. Whether tracking COVID patients through contact tracing or analyzing demographic data to determine a vaccine rollout plan, the government needs the ability to collect high-quality data and quickly glean valuable insight from that data to make decisions. We digested that information and call for action from the government, allowing our team to quickly adjust and support our customers where they needed us the most. NGS is one of a few organizations that was selected to support the Health Equity mission of the White House’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.
NGS supports the Health Resource & Services Administration (HRSA) Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine PMO support contract. We simplify program administration by focusing on rapid-cycle quality and streamlining operations. With this contract, our team directly supports HRSA’s vision “to improve health outcomes and achieve health equity through access to quality services, a skilled health workforce, and innovative, high-value programs.” This inherently means maintaining the ability to adapt as information becomes available and changes.
Lastly, challenge any unnecessary processes, customization, and complexity — keep things lean and simple: Last year, NGS completed a Rapid Prototype Competition to rewrite a legacy application that managed the intake of Continuous Improvement and Innovation ideas. The legacy tool was cumbersome and was not well adopted by its users. By utilizing a different approach than the traditional SDLC process, we were able to bring unique cross functional teams together and enable them to work in a fast-paced environment. Five self-organized teams all produced viable products to solve a business problem in a fraction of the time it would take with traditional SDLC methods. This enabled NGS to evaluate multiple alternatives and select the best solution. In addition to creating a solution that was considerably less complex, more modern, and better met the needs of the users, our teams avoided the costly designs and implementations that are associated with traditional software development.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I have a post-it on my computer that says, “Your success is my joy.” Making a positive impact doesn’t mean that you have to change the world, but that you are making others happy and successful through your actions and support. The joy in serving others and being a part of something positive has ripples in society and your own self esteem. Through my work at NGS, I take pride in what I do to support the largest government agencies that focus on providing critical health care for millions across the country.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I’d love to have an opportunity to have a meal with my parents again. While this isn’t possible, it would be amazing to share with them the great things I am doing in healthcare, meet my husband and son, and share in their pride. My success would be their joy.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.