Women in Tech: Interview with Florence Chang, Executive VP and COO of Multicare Health System
Florence Chang, the daughter of an educator, started out as a clinician and worked into IT. She oversees operations at six adult hospitals and one children’s hospital in two markets on the west and east sides of Washington state. She has wide experience in Healthcare IT and is an example and mentor to many women in the industry.
Stronger Q: The numbers for women in technology are actually going down. Why do you think that is?
Florence: We don’t seem to help one another be successful in the work environment. The most important thing, from my perspective, for any women in leadership or in technology, is to be comfortable in your own skin. I think a lot of times women are not comfortable in their own skin.
So I think it is that balancing. I never see myself as a woman; I see myself as a person. I don’t see myself as Asian; I see myself as a person. I don’t see myself as an immigrant. I see myself as a citizen of whatever community I’m in.
I think that’s important to any of us, to be successful. It’s whatever you do that you are passionate about.
Stronger: How did you get into technology?
Florence: My background is actually not in technology. I “grew up” in the laboratory. I’m a Clinician by training but when I was a kid and was asked … “What do you want to be when you grow up? I said I wanted to be a teacher, because my mom was a teacher. I admire and gravitate towards the qualities a teacher has.
In the late 80’s I worked at Kaiser in the laboratory. Kaiser was a very progressive organization; they wanted to put in a laboratory Information System. They asked, who wanted to volunteer and sign up to implement the system and I raised my hand. I always believe that technology can help us to become much more effective and efficient, and I wanted to see how we connected to technology and to be able to be part of that.
So I signed up and, actually, that was the first door that opened for me in technology. I entered the IT side of the industry.
Stronger: The 1980’s was definitely an early time in medicine’s adoption of computer technology. How did your responsibilities continue beyond that time?
Florence: I got involved in putting in place the laboratory information system. I learned a lot about how the system worked and how it could make an impact to the end user. I really enjoyed and was very interested in that phase and then I moved more into hospital operations. I still work very closely with IT, because I constantly want to think about how we can work to develop a system to get rid of a lot of manual systems.
I spent a lot of time over in the IT department, working with them. And one of the program directors came by and said, “We gotta hire her, she understands operations and is also very interested in IT”.
And he looked at me and he said, “Well, are you interested in working in IT?”
And you know, I was so foolish and I was so young I said, “I don’t know if you can afford me.” That’s the first thing that came out of my mouth. I started negotiation in my early age.
He responded… “Let’s talk”.
Stronger: How did you continue to create your own path?
Florence: Then I wrote my first job description as a system analyst for Kaiser. At the time there was no such thing as a business analyst or system analyst.
So this is what I am talking about. Create your path. We each need to have that curiosity, constantly looking for opportunity to be presented to you, and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. So, it doesn’t exist, all right? So I wrote it, right? And they accepted it. I got into IT.
Stronger: What was your first IT Job like?
Florence: I learned to understand data structure.
And why is that important? To have good data structure? In order to have good data it requires us to have, number one; good architectural design. Just think about building a house you need to have a blue print. You need to see the big picture. The second thing you need to have great foundation because you need data on that foundation. If the foundation is not built right or is too complicated then it’s difficult for you to get data out of that system. So that foundation data structure is extremely important.
Stronger: When did you first become aware of Cybersecurity as a concern?
Florence: Cybersecurity is more recent, around 2000. Multicare, we put into our electronic health records, on the in-patient side, 2007, 2008. I became CIO in 2006. And that is the time, that I started getting into the cybersecurity stage. At the time we were putting tons of data into the electronic health record system, and we had to understand what kind of security to put in place? How do we protect our data?
In 2012, we began to scratch the surface and started to put the cybersecurity infrastructure in place. But it was not until 2014, that we decided we would actually do it, to put in the necessary infrastructure to be used for a bench mark. So that’s where we are at this point.
Stronger: What do you see as the, biggest concern the industry has for the next 5 years?
Florence: Well I think that there are two aspects.
One is people, the internal users. Do we have the right education to talk about awareness? How can we do some internal testing? What happens if there is an attack? Information Systems are our business. How do we continue business during an attack recovery? So we really began to do a lot more that in our organization. To make it more real to our employee population.
Two is the external threats. You can go from China to the United States and there are people hacking and trying to get patient information. Patient information is more valuable than financial information. Probably two times or three times more valuable. So people are constantly trying to hack and get that information.
Stronger: Is the NIST 800 regulation part of your Cybersecurity strategy, because I know that you are connected with the military through the VA.
Florence: Yes. But we also have our own goal, because we want to do a lot more than meet the regulation. We are intentionally doing more.
So we think about the penetration vulnerability. And every possible vehicle people can use to get into the system. How do we protect it?
It is not just how you can prevent breaches but also early detection. And once we have early detection in place, how to respond quickly and how to be able to lock the system down? Lock it down quickly.
Stronger: How important is having a good incident response plan?
Florence. Actually, to me, that is more important than anything else. It’s not if, it’s when. So we have to focus on the when…not if.
Stronger: What do wish someone had told you, about your first job, when you graduated college?
Florence: Well, that’s an interesting question. I think I would want people to tell me to be bold. Be courageous grab onto every opportunity that is presented to you.
I write in a journal every night because it’s time for me to reflect. Sometimes I look at the choice of words I used in a conversation, and reflect on that. Because sometimes we are in the moment and we use words that may not be the most appropriate words. I think, how can I change that next time? What can I do better? That’s the constant learning.
Stronger: How would you go about closing the gender gap in technology? And you mentioned being more supportive of each other as women. Is there anything that you would add to that?
Florence: Yes, I would say that I think that we need to have more women. I also think women need to feel free to be willing to reach out to each other. Step up; mentor someone.
A part of what I do here is mentoring. I always have 2 or 3 people that I’m mentoring. I also have a fellowship program that I put in place. In the summer we have interns. I think part of that is just to give to other people, but more importantly, as women I think that should be our calling.