Physician Spotlight: Jim R. Jirjis: Staying in Touch
Head shot forwarded to Susan Graham.
Jim Jirjis, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has always been way ahead of the curve.
As a high school and college student, he was intrigued by computers and spent his time learning about their possibilities and complexities. He was the first person he knew to have email.
At the time, when he told a friend of his amazing new way to communicate, he was asked, “If you are the only person you know who has it, who will you email?”
He doesn’t need to worry about that now.
As the lead developer of MyHealthatVanderbilt Patient Web Portal, he is responsible for an enormous email network available to 43,000 patients connected to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Within the system, approximately 2,500 patients log in through the portal per day.
Growing up in Arkansas, Jirjis was always involved in sports, especially basketball, under the tutelage of his father, a former world class shot putter and discus thrower, who “had coached me since I was a kid,” he said.
“But I realized that the basketball team wasn’t my future, and I had to tell him I wanted to quit the team. I wanted to go to medical school and I needed to concentrate on that.”
He graduated from University of Illinois and pursued his medical degree at University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. After graduation, Jirjis came to Nashville for training where he served as chief resident in medicine at Vanderbilt Hospital and as chief fellow in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In 1996, he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.
He is now the chief medical information officer for the Outpatient Clinics at Vanderbilt. Jirjis is also the founder and executive medical director of the Vanderbilt Center for Health Promotion and Disease Management, which has a mission of improving quality of care in the ambulatory setting with the Vanderbilt Medical Group (VMG).
However, Jirjis’ talent as a change agent melding process and technology is most evident in his role as chairman and lead developer of MyHealthatVanderbilt, widely considered to be one of the top five patient web portals across the country, consistently receiving high marks for its constant improvements in process and technology.
MyHealthatVanderbilt provides secure messaging between patients and their physicians’ offices, giving patients access to laboratory results, as well as customized patient-centered education, the ability to pay their medical bills online and to review their medication and allergy lists online.
Jirjis and his staff developed a safe and responsive messaging system incorporating a weekly audit to ensure that no message in any message basket is left unattended. Of the more than 250,000 messages a week coming through the system for documentation in the medical record, there are fewer than 100 emails that do not get attended to in a week’s time. There is no other system in the country that incorporates an automatic audit procedure to catch messages that have not had a response.
Jirjis also led in the development and design of an advanced communication and messaging system within electronic medical records (EMR) that is used ubiquitously throughout the VMG clinics and satellite offices.
Since 2004, Jirjis has served as chairman of the Medical Records Committee; and in 2002, he co-developed the highly regarded StarPanel Electronic Medical Record used throughout the Vanderbilt Medical Center.
“As medical director of primary care, I organized staff and providers to provide feedback while we developed the EMR with rapid prototyping and developed several key functionalities in the EMR, making it possible to completely replace the paper chart with a robust EMR within six months,” he explained.
When President George W. Bush, as part of proposed economic recovery legislation in his second term, wanted to see how an EMR platform should work, he came to Nashville to study the system Jirjis developed.
In 2004, Jirjis analyzed how much time he spent figuring out how to incorporate training, finance, and management systems into his projects and decided to get his MBA degree at Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management. He calls his time at Owen the “best education of my life.”
Jirjis said, “I absolutely love my job, but I also like to expand my interests.” One example of that diversity followed a chance encounter with a physician who had a beekeeping hobby. After a conversation about honeybee cultivation, Jirjis was stung with curiosity about the intricate systems and culture of the bees.
This grew into an apiary hobby business with a dozen or so hives, and some 700,000 energetic honeybees buzzing around in a bucolic setting by the river in Williamson County.
He said, “It is a great hobby for busy people — it doesn’t take too much time and effort to get set up. All you do is create the environment. The bees go out and find their own water and food. You can ignore them for a month and come back and have all this honey.”
He developed a business model to distribute what turned out to be quite a bit of honey, selling it as Dr. Jirjis’ Pure and Natural Tennessee Honey, with proceeds benefitting the Monroe Carell, Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
He enlisted Josh, his 16-year-old son, who is actually more interested in film making, and Ashley, his 14-year-old daughter, who might be interested in a career in medicine, to help with bottling and labeling.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Jirjis’ apiarist activities were washed away when his queen and workers were lost in the flood last May.
Still, there is no doubt what he learned about ancient secrets of process, order and efficiency from the world’s original organization experts will be put into practice somewhere.