Learning from the Leaders Behind the Johns Hopkins Capacity Command Center

Its work with GE Healthcare helped mix, filter and create real-time information from dozens of data streams.

When one thinks of innovation and healthcare business transformation, it’s often in association with young, West Coast start-ups founded in the 21st century.  Rarely is an organization that was founded prior to 2000 regarded as modern and innovative.  Not to mention one that was founded in the 1800s. That’s what makes the Johns Hopkins Capacity Command Center, designed and built with GE Healthcare Partners Group, so interesting. It’s a collaboration of two organizations, both over 125 years old, working together to create one of the most impactful healthcare innovations in recent years.  

In this article, we go beyond how the GE Command Center at Johns Hopkins works and get into how it all started. Let’s dive into how the leaders behind the GE Clinical Command Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine have driven business transformation in healthcare.  

Where It All Began 

Soon after the Johns Hopkins Capacity Command Center went live, the Economist cited that “the biggest upgrades to hospitals are needed behind the scenes”—and went on to describe it as “a NASA-inspired ‘command center’ to manage its patient flows. Surrounded by 22 beeping flat screens, live video streams and lots of phones, staff members wearing headsets orchestrate the 1,100-bed institution around the clock. 

 GE Healthcare, a medical-technology firm, helped mix, filter and create new real-time information from dozens of data streams— in addition to designing the operating mechanisms, processes and even the physical space of the new center.  Bed-planning has gone from an art to a science with the help of programs that predict demand with great precision and warn when a crunch is approaching. 

Given the maturity of GE Healthcare and Johns Hopkins Medicine, and their ability to continually innovate, they classify as a “Transformer archetype” within the Evolved Healthcare Enterprise model.   

Recently, I spoke with Jim Scheulen, Chief Administrative Officer, Emergency Medicine and Capacity Management, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Jeff Terry, CEO GE Clinical Command Centers. Here are a few themes behind their partnership that made the Command Center possible. 

It’s About the People Before It’s About the Technology 

Jim and Jeff both agreed this initiative would not have gotten out of the gates if it wasn’t for the leadership from both sides. Jim highlights, “Johns Hopkins clinical and administrative leadership is very strong and forward-thinking, who see immense value in using sophisticated tools and analytics to run operations. It was never a question of ‘if,” but ‘when’.” Jeff added, “We were struck by the humility of Hopkins’ leaders, at every level.  That translated to efficient interactions, which is key to moving forward at pace.And on the GE side of the house, the GE Healthcare leadership team provided broad success criteria and a budget. From there we had a safe space to innovate within.” 

This is quite important to highlight, as many mature enterprises tend to be risk-averse and are slow to adopt the technology. It has little to do with the age of the organization, but the degree to which leadership takes a progressive view on running a modern enterprise. Second, we often see older enterprises holding onto an “operator approach,” micromanaging everyone’s activity instead of setting parameters and letting teams operate with autonomy, speed and agility. This is what makes a Transformer different than older enterprises that are “just hoping” to be more innovative but don’t follow through from a leadership or supporting operating model perspective.   

Breakthrough Innovation Begins in Increments 

According to Jim, “As a lot of these things start, the lightbulb didn’t just go off and we decided to build the command center. Roots started when we at Hopkins started to think that we should use simulation modeling, good data and statistical analytics for how we do our business. Running it in small bits at first.”  Jeff adds, “From the GE side, we had been working on patient flow, access and throughput for about ten years with steadily increasing analytic capabilities. GE had explored something like this for the city of Rio de Janeiro and when we shared that with Jim and the Hopkins’ team it seemed like a very natural evolution of what they were already doing in small bits.” This is a huge advantage to Transformers. They often have a variety of low(er) tech solutions in place, acting as proofs-of-concept and allowing for these large, healthcare business transformations to be evolutionary from a risk perspective. 

Patience and Speed Aren’t Opposing Forces 

Many large, mature healthcare enterprises get into an “operations and optimization” mindset, and whenever an innovation opportunity comes along, there can be a knee-jerk reaction to ask, “What’s the cost? What’s the ROI? How long will it take?”  Breakthrough innovation takes time and comes with a fair degree of uncertainty. Coincidentally, health companies are well versed in this, as most clinical products and services don’t come with quick ROIs. As Jim explains, “Johns Hopkins is comprised of financially smart people, not unfamiliar with long returns. We are a research organization and used to seeing returns take time; we had targets set and have hit our targets as planned since opening the command center.” GE Healthcare was equally prudent in making adjustments as they went, “We didn’t just jump in and constantly make changes,” Jeff added. “We focused on solving one problem at a time for caregivers, confident that this would eventually coalesce into an integrated software platform. And that’s exactly what has happened.”  

Above all, Jeff underscored the importance of a common purpose. 

“There is no doubt that at big companies there will be many agendas in play. The key to this effort was to stay focused on authentically helping caregivers, and almost ignore the rest.”


Keeping the purpose at the core of a healthcare business transformation is important, as challenges and new insights will emerge along the way. As Jim points out to others that take on serious innovation opportunities, “It will be more than you think it is, and its an adventure, requiring a lot of adaptation along the way. Something of this scale was first-in-kind work. It was hard. And the talented, hard-working people behind it all are able to make it fun, and something we’ll never forget.”   

Jim and Jeff wanted to acknowledge some of their great colleagues who made this happen:

Ron Peterson, Judy Reitz, Mary Margarette Jacobs, Steve Mandell, Catherine Boyne, Alan Coltri, Jim Hainley, Damon Fisher, Bree Bush, Andy Day, Kathy Martin, Jim Livas, Manny Singh, Anne Cole, Ryan Treml, Ryan Mancl, Christine Peeters, Sreelatha Surendranathan, Pradeep Rai and Steve Verdi.

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