Rick Copple – Community Health Network

A doctor and CIO partner up to tell the story of IT

When Rick Copple talks to doctors about how to use an online patient portal or why a new video conferencing tool is important, he can see their eyes glaze over.

His jargon goes over their heads and his words get lost in translation. They simply want to take care of their patients; they don’t have time to worry about IT or technology. Copple understands this, but he also knows that technology makes their jobs a little easier.

Enter Dr. Patrick McGill. The chief analytics officer is also a physician, allowing him to convey Copple’s message in a way that doctors understand.

Copple and McGill work together at Community Health Network, where Copple is the CIO. Typically, CIOs report to a CEO, COO or CFO, but Community Health Network made the change last year when it became clear that reporting to the CAO would be more effective.

Rick Copple – Community Health Network

Rick Copple | Chief Information Officer | Community Health Network

For his first 17 years at Community Health Network, Copple was the chief technology officer. He was promoted to CIO in August 2017 and now focuses less on the technology itself and more on strategy. Having McGill in his corner makes it easier to share this vision with doctors and executive leaders so that technology, business and patient care goals are in alignment.

“I’ll tell them what I’m working on, but it’s tech-speak and it can go over their heads,” Copple says. “We want people on the hospital floor to understand the value of IT.”

Conveying the vision

Community Health Network, headquartered in Indianapolis, is a nonprofit health system with more than 200 locations, including nine hospitals, in central Indiana. The network includes general and specialty hospitals, surgery centers, home care services, behavioral health centers and urgent care centers.

As the CIO, Copple focuses on the operations of IT and high-level infrastructure. He wants IT to help the company grow, which he says was difficult before he and McGill started working together because doctors and executives didn’t view the IT department as a partner.

“In healthcare, many clinicians truly do not understand the complexities of IT and what business value it can provide,” Copple says. “Instead, they see us as the necessary evil and more as a utility provider.”

McGill bridges the gap in both directions, showing physicians how Copple’s ideas will benefit their patients. On the flip side, he ensures Copple understands what doctors and patients need.

Whenever implementing new technology or making changes to the electronic medical records system, McGill helps Copple explain how it works and why. Copple says McGill “focuses on telling the story” of the technology being used.

McGill, who’s been the network’s CAO for two and a half years, says his role is to “break down the operational silos” and tie together hospital functions, such as patient care, regulations, business and IT.

“Having that frontline patient care knowledge and experience combined with the network and enterprise strategy and IT experience has allowed us to be much more nimble and provide better care,” McGill says.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair has found different ways to communicate and connect with patients, such as texting and through a patient portal, and have introduced virtual spaces, which work in conjunction with the existing EMR system.

“All of the things that naturally happen in the office—scheduling, billing, documenting medical records—need to be done virtually now,” Copple explains.

Adapting to COVID

The pandemic has also forced Copple and his IT team to reexamine existing operations and find areas that could be made safer and easier for patients and employees.

Using the EMR system, a program called Epic, doctors can meet virtually with patients and have all the information and details from the appointment recorded and documented securely in one place. Getting doctors on board with this was a challenge, though, Copple says.

Doctors are busy and want convenience, Copple explains, so many of them were using their personal cell phones to FaceTime with patients.

“FaceTime is simpler to use, but it loses so much on the back end,” Copple says, noting that doctors then had to go into the EMR anyways to manually enter information.

The EMR was experiencing some issues at the start of COVID, though, as Epic worked to integrate with a new video call system. Now it’s working well, doctors are becoming more comfortable with it.

Getting patients accustomed to telehealth was another hurdle, but with doctors talking them through the changes, they became less timid using video. And with the EMR is operating smoothly, Copple says patients are on board with the new way of doing things.

“It’s definitely something that’s very well-received, especially for those who don’t want to come in,” he says. “Virtual visits have been a lifesaver.”

Likewise, the patient portal, MyChart, has been enhanced so patients have access to more in-depth notes and test results, and can make payments, schedule appointments and request prescription refills without having to call the office.

Copple has also introduced a program through CipherHealth, a healthcare technology company, that texts patients appointment and scheduling reminders and keeps them updated with COVID-19 information.

An unexpected silver lining

Community Health Network employs 18,000 people and, in another change brought on by the pandemic, most of the administrative staff works remotely now using tools such as Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams. The entire IT department—500 employees—works remotely, which Copple says has been going smoothly.

In this way, Copple says the pandemic has made him reconsider so much of the employee experience and he now allows people to have flexible schedules so they can take care of themselves and their families. With three grown children and two grandchildren, he understands the struggle of working remotely while children are trying to learn in the next room.

Copple also sends out resources for staying healthy and managing stress and has been hosting monthly virtual town hall-style meetings so everyone can stay connected.

Prior to COVID-19, remote work didn’t seem possible, but when it’s finally safe to return, Copple says he plans to offer a hybrid work model. In terms of changes made for patients, Copple expects the new technology to stay in place post-pandemic.

“If nothing else, this has been a good thing to come out of COVID,” Copple says. “It’s leap-frogged us forward.”

With McGill in his corner, Copple knows patients will always be top of mind, no matter how technology—and the world—changes.

Published on: April 14, 2021



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