By Mary Butler
AHIMA President/Chair-Elect Katherine Lusk, MHSM, RHIA, FAHIMA, has never forgotten that she got her start in health information management (HIM) by working on the very lowest rung of the career ladder. As she was graduating from high school, her Campfire leader asked if Lusk—who was at that time interested in physical therapy—would be interested in working in her hometown hospital’s medical records department.
“At the time I said, ‘Gosh that sounds great,’” Lusk says. “I went to work at 18 in the medical record department at Gainesville Memorial Hospital, in Texas, where I’m from, and it’s a 100-bed hospital. And I was the ‘chief gopher’—the lowest level of any employee in the entire hospital. And they lovingly said that to me. I just did whatever they told me I was supposed to do.”
And Lusk quickly earned her coworkers’ respect due to her willingness to tackle every task with gusto. She volunteered to transcribe radiology reports, learned how to code, assisted female radiology patients during scans, manually filled out insurance forms, and billed physicians. To this day, Lusk returns to some of these basic tasks she learned during this time.
“When I get stressed out I think ‘I need to relax, I’m just going to code some ED records.’ There’s always work to do. The coders are thankful,” adds Lusk, who currently serves as chief health information management and exchange officer, at Children’s Health in Dallas, TX, where she has worked since 2002.
Lusk credits her first HIM job for helping her develop an appreciation for so many different parts of the profession.
“At the very beginning, as I started my career, I had to know a little bit about everything. As I knew a little bit about everything I understood how it related to what I was doing. And it made it easier,” she notes.
But it was the encouraging, empowering colleagues at Gainesville Memorial Hospital that cemented her love of the profession and affection for hospitals. Between college and her time at Children’s Health she worked for the Texas Medical Foundation, which is a peer review organization for Texas, and she found herself missing the hospital environment.
“I worked there for a year, but I really missed hospitals. I like the way hospitals look, feel, and smell,” Lusk says, which led to her next job as the assistant vice president patient information services at the Osteopathic Medical Center of Texas, where she worked for 11 years, and eventually to Children’s Health.
Reputation for Leadership
Lusk’s leadership and passion for advocacy has made her a sought-after speaker on health IT topics, particularly patient matching and interoperability. She has represented AHIMA in Congressional briefings on patient identification and matching (PIM) on Capitol Hill and she serves on several important committees.
Lusk is on Epic’s Care Everywhere governing council and she leads an interoperability collaborative for the state of Texas, which is working with public health agencies across the state to implement electronic case reporting for COVID-19 data mapping.
Under her tenure at Children’s Health, her HIM team has earned praise for participating in a pilot program that connected children with sickle cell disease to a personal health record, which increased patient satisfaction scores and medication adherence. The program was sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT.
Children’s Health also has made a name for itself in improving its duplicate record error rate, putting it well under AHIMA’s recommended 1-percent rate. As ONC noted in a report, Children’s Health cut their duplicate rate from 22 percent down to 0.14 percent over a 10-month period. Now, the organization’s rate is 0.2 percent.
Improving PIM and interoperability are major goals for Lusk as she enters her term as president and chair of AHIMA.
“I do want to improve interoperability and I want us to embrace the global health record and normalizing data across the US and across the continent. I believe that as people we’re not static. And I believe that’s incredibly important. And PIM is part of that and standards adoption is another,” Lusk says.
Fortunately for AHIMA, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the industry more receptive to the association’s message and advocacy on these topics, she notes. When she was first elected to her role last year, she never imagined she’d be part of a team leading the organization through a public health emergency with such a profound impact on the entire healthcare ecosystem. But this has only strengthened her commitment to the organization and made her optimistic about the industry’s future.
Says Lusk, “I think the world needs health information professionals now more than they ever have… We’re a stabilizing force in a sea of chaos as healthcare reinvents itself. We’re a constant. Standing in the middle, normalizing data. Serving as the patient advocate.”
Mary Butler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of the Journal of AHIMA.