A quarter century ago, some of us wondered what this thing called ‘the web’ even was. Many decided to ignore what they couldn’t understand. Luckily, some South Florida health executives recognized they needed to organize around their perceived weakness – Information Technology (IT) – in order to take advantage of its potential strength. They took the plunge and dove head-first into the unknown.

Those initial inquisitive four progressive thinkers pooled $15,000 each seed money, hired a CEO, Betsey K. Cooke, and this collective innovation eventually was awarded government grants to grow IT and to coordinate managed care and finances. Within a few years the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the primary federal agency for improving health care to people who are geographically isolated, economically or medically vulnerable, offered an annual grant to support Health Choice Network. HCN has evolved into a nationwide collaboration among health centers, health center controlled networks and partners, in eight states providing key business services, strategic initiatives and the latest in health information technology designed to improve health care for more than 4 million patients.
Alejandro (Alex) Romillo, President and CEO, joined the organization 21 years ago as Director of IT, and held several different roles including CIO and COO. Long term service is not unusual among the 136 associates and partners at HCN. “We are lean so we can go fast and we don’t hide outcomes if we fail fast. Our dashboards are red or green – no yellow. We have learned that to succeed you expect some wrong turns but immediately realign and reset the path to move forward to succeed. Empowering our staff to be daringly innovative and recognizing their knowledge and contributions is what keeps us challenged and dedicated,” he explained.
The Board has also held true to its initial ‘boot-strap’, introspective mentality. All board members have a stake in area health care and are committed to sharing similar practices and disparities to increase efficiency, access and quality care to patients. “We purposely review, share and learn from our wins and our missteps and that’s what some of us call ‘the secret sauce’,” Romillo revealed.
Over the years the Health Choice Network has grown nationwide but close to home there are 31 members in Florida caring for 3.4 million South Florida residents in need of a medical home. Nevertheless, from coast to coast, the common thread is the mission … Giving up for the greater good. The Board and the majority of administrative and professional team members have been recruited from participating hospitals, and as such, wear their commitment on their sleeves.
Decades ago, Florida was a pilot state for the introduction of HMOs and testing value-based care. HCN was a pioneer dragging one of the largest business lines (health care) into the digital world. According to Romillo, during the first decade of its existence HCN concentrated on digitizing paper records which was a pain point for most providers. However, initial reluctance to change turned into acceptance and finally enthusiastic support when efficiencies, cost savings, and reduction in medical errors was proven.
“We let the data speak for itself,” Romillo explained. “Now we are a leader in implementing the electronic health record, oral health record and soon the behavioral health record. Our expertise in technology enables health care providers to document, communicate and track medical information, providing patients with faster service, reduced errors and safer transmission of information among labs, pharmacies, hospitals and physicians keeping data security constantly top-of-mind.”
Since its modest beginnings HCN has earned a reputation for leadership in the integration of health info technology among members. Services include education, hosting turnkey HIS systems, providing strategy and planning, network design and support, volume pricing and purchasing, contract negotiations and vendor management. State-of-the-art health information systems capture, analyze and leverage data to improve quality and access to care. In fact, over the past five years, HCN achieved enviable status as the only not for profit and only U.S. finalist for the Citrix award for innovation, (the Oscars of technology). While the network has successfully built a firm foundation on technology, in recent history there has been a deliberate pivot to the next phase – patient centered quality and value-based initiatives. Expanded services integrate clinical engagement in quality initiatives and tracking new options in targeted treatment protocols.
Whether the playing field is artificial intelligence, clinical engagement, revenue cycle management, managed care contracting or provider credentialing, the HCN team is competitive and plays to win. “We willingly share promising practices and failures in order to benefit as a group rather than confine ourselves to traditional silo environments which curb many health care organizations,” Romillo concluded.