Rhonda Willis wears numerous hats at Northwest Health – La Porte, serving as Facility Compliance Officer, Facility Privacy Officer, and Health Information Management Director. She’s been with the hospital for 27 years, since back when it was La Porte Hospital. Her family had relocated to Northwest Indiana in 1994, and when she began working at Northwest Health, she started as a coder before working her way up to management.
“The field has evolved so much, especially over the past several years,” Willis said. “A lot has changed in healthcare since I started.”
Her days are never really the same. Some days, she is investigating compliance-related issues, ensuring patients are receiving the medical advice and treatment regime that is good for them. Other days, however, are health information management focused.
“Health Information Management is the updated, modern term for medical records,” Willis explained. “Back when I first started at Northwest Health, we called them Medical Records, but over the past 20 years, it has evolved to Health Information Management because the records are no longer paper, but rather in an electronic format.”
Willis can remember when medical records were paper-based and involved multiple steps and verifications to access them. But when the outdated paper records began to transition to digital in the 2000s, she recalls a shift in how they were able to treat patients while still providing the care Northwest Health prides itself on.
“It was exciting when our organization started to convert to electronic medical records in the 2000s,” Willis said. “We became fully electronic in 2009.”
Along with shifting to electronic records, Northwest Health placed all of its physician practices and clinics on electronic records also; so that the organization is fully integrated across the board. For Willis, this integration has been key to how she and her team serves its patients.
“So, if you’re going to a family practice physician for a wellness checkup and they send you to our hospital to get any labs or x-rays done, that information will be readily available to the provider because they have complete access to it,” Willis said. “It’s a more accurate reflection of what your medical record is. Now that we have integrated medical records, it helps because you have that solid, accurate history, and anything that needs to be verified or ironed out can be done so easily.”
“To be a part of that process was really exciting for me,” she continued. “It really changed my way of thinking about what we were taught in school. When I was in school many moons ago, it was focused on the paper medical records and how to manage that process. And then as we converted to an electronic process, your workflow changes, and you have new challenges arise as old challenges become obsolete. It really puts that ownership on the patient, because they now have that information readily available at their fingertips.”
Willis was recently named Northwest Health – La Porte’s Non-Clinical Manager of the Year, a surprise but an honor for the 27-year veteran.
“As a non-clinical manager, I don’t have a lot of patient interaction face-to-face,” Willis said. “I have a lot of interaction with patients over the phone if they have questions about their bill or a process, things that can be stressful. But even if I don’t interact with patients the same way other managers do, I do everything I can to help and to be of service to our patients.”
Willis is originally from east Tennessee and loves to return there as often as she can to see the beautiful mountains and landscape that area has to offer. She has two children: her son is a manager at Amazon and is also a First Lieutenant in the National Guard, and her daughter lives and works in Washington, D.C. In her free time, Willis can be found gardening and reading as much as she can.
“Since my job can be intense at times, I really enjoy reading fiction,” said Willis. “Harlan Coben is one of my favorites. His books are easy reading, but they still address things in a way that makes you think about them after you’re done with the book.”
For more information about Northwest Health – La Porte, visit its website at www.nwhealthlaporte.com.