Seeking expert advice
Organizations see no conflict of interest as IT veterans join firms’ boards
Three veteran health information technology leaders have recently taken positions with for-profit companies that sell software and IT services to the healthcare industry. The leaders are Dr. C. Martin Harris, chief medical information officer and chairman of the health information technology division at the Cleveland Clinic; Dr. Kevin Fickenscher, president and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association, Bethesda, Md.; and Russell Branzell, CEO of Poudre Valley Medical Group, part of the Fort Collins, Colo.based, two-hospital Poudre Valley Health System.
Harris was named to the board of directors of Thermo Fisher Scientific, Waltham, Mass., a publicly traded laboratory management software and systems developer. He also will serve on the board’s nominating and governance committee.
Harris already is a member of the governing boards of two other publicly traded companies: Invacare Corp., Elyria, Ohio, a manufacturer of wheelchairs and other devices for home and long-term care; and Healthstream, a developer of Internet-based learning and research software.
Thermo Fisher Scientific Chairman Jim Manzi said in a news release that Harris’ “extensive healthcare information technology expertise, as well as his strong track record of innovation, will provide unique and valuable perspective to Thermo Fisher.”
Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil said the position is within the clinic’s guidelines on conflicts of interest and was vetted by a team that includes two clinic trustees who are on the board’s own conflict of interest committee. “He would not be involved in any way related to decisionmaking” on any business relationships between the Cleveland Clinic and Thermo Fisher, Sheil said. Disclosure of his board appointment will be posted on the Cleveland Clinic’s website, she said.
Thermo Fisher directors receive an annual retainer of $80,000. Independent directors, such as Harris, who started in March, are required to amass three times the amount of their annual retainer in company stock within five years, according to a recent proxy statement.
Fickenscher was named chairman of a newly created advisory board to Intelligent Insites, Fargo, N.D., a privately held developer of real-time wireless asset location systems and other workflow improvement systems and software. Dr. Ray Gruby, the company’s board chairman and chief medical officer, said in a news release that the company “sought out” Fickenscher “for his healthcare practice experience and eminent position in the field of healthcare informatics.”
Fickenscher would need to add the advisory board appointment to the conflict of interest statement that all AMIA staff, officers and board members are required to complete, said Kristin Schelin, the association’s director of operations and programs. “We’re in the process of reviewing everything with him,” she said.
Fickenscher graduated from the University of North Dakota Medical School, where he founded the Center for Rural Health, a rural health service, research and policy analysis organization. He previously served in various physician executive leadership roles for health IT companies, including Dell, Perot Systems, Computer Sciences Corp. and WEBMD. He heads CREO Strategic Solutions, a leadership consulting firm.
In an e-mail response to a request for Fickenscher’s compensation, Intelligent Insites Chief Operating Officer Thomas Schneider said the company will provide “a consequential means for our advisers to participate in our company’s success.”
Branzell was named to the board of directors of Getwellnetwork, Bethesda, Md., a developer of interactive patient communications, education and Internet access systems. Poudre Valley is a Getwellnetwork customer. Company CEO and founder Michael O’neil said Poudre Valley is nationally recognized as a healthcare innovator, adding that Branzell’s contributions “will help assure that our patient engagement innovation continues to meet the needs of healthcare organizations and the patients in their care.”
Branzell previously served as the chief information officer of PVHS and the president and CEO of Innovation Enterprises, the not-for-profit healthcare system’s for-profit information systems unit, according to a biography on the hospital system’s Web page.
Branzell’s appointment to the Getwellnetwork board was vetted by the systems legal staff “to ensure it isn’t a conflict of interest,” said Gary Kimsey, a spokesman for Poudre Valley Health System. “It isn’t.”
Branzell will not receive compensation for sitting on the Getwellnetwork board, Kimsey said. Plus, “Russ doesn’t oversee our information services department any more, so he doesn’t have any influence over how we use Getwellnetwork services.”
Fickenscher The executives were named to boards at Getwellnetwork, Intelligent Insites and Thermo Fisher Scientific, respectively.