Cheers to 40 years! Celebrating four decades of 3M Health Information Systems – Part 2

Oct. 23, 2023 / By Rhonda Butler

We’re celebrating 40 years of 3M Health Information Systems (HIS)! We couldn’t do it without our employees’ hard work and dedication. 

Working at 3M HIS can undoubtedly be fun. From navigating industry changes, alleviating obstacles for our clients and seeing the impact our solutions and services can make for physicians, coders, nurses, administrators and patients, there’s always something exciting happening. 

Our people make the big things happen, and we are thrilled to share their personal stories, experiences and successes over the years. Read on to discover how one 3Mer made a career shift that led her to meet her other half! 

Name: Rhonda Butler 

Job title: Clinical research manager 

Years at 3M: 23 

Can you tell us more about your role and background? How did you become a 3Mer? How long have you been with the company? 

I’ve been with 3M since 2000. I started working in the health care space later than most. After several years of teaching, I was ready for a career change. I’m introverted, so teaching was like an acting role that I had to get into every day, and after I had done it for years, I discovered I was tired of hearing myself talk! I started as a medical records coder at Intermountain Healthcare (IHC) in Salt Lake City when I transitioned to health care. After a few years, one of my coworkers took a position at 3M HIS, and she thought it was a great place to work. I applied for a hybrid position working half-time in the coding support call center and half-time on 3M™ CodeFinder™ System development for the Canadian implementation of ICD-10 procedures. Eventually, I took a place within the clinical and economic research (CER) team, focusing first on ICD-10-PCS development as 3M HIS contracted with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to develop a procedure coding system to accompany the ICD-10-CM diagnosis codes.  

I still work within CER on the twice-annual ICD-10-PCS updates under 3M‘s contract with CMS. I also work on other CER projects for 3M as they come up.

What is one of your favorite memories from 3M HIS?

My favorite 3M memory is a personal one. I met Ron Mills, my partner of 17 years while working at 3M. One of the ICD-10 related projects for CMS was to develop a system for mapping between the ICD-10 and ICD-9 classifications that would preserve the distinctions in forward and backward mapping and be relatively straightforward. Our team had some software engineer support, but when we were running up against something we couldn’t work out, everyone said, “We need to get Ron in on this.” I knew his name because he was on the ground floor of developing the diagnosis related groups (DRGs) at Yale and he is the guy everyone called when they needed someone to pull a rabbit out of the hat when it came to software.  

Ron, who is in my totally unbiased opinion, a complete genius. On that first phone call when I heard his voice – and he says it was the same for him, when he heard my voice on the phone – that was it. That. was. it. It was more than a year before we could meet in person, and since then we’ve been inseparable. We worked together on ICD-10 projects for years and years.  

It’s the most romantic story I know of outside of the movies. 

Ron is now retired (queue the air quotes) because he was immediately hired back as a contractor and has been working on research projects ever since. 

What types of changes have you experienced during your tenure at 3M HIS?

The most dramatic changes I have seen in my work at 3M were the years leading up to ICD-10 implementation, which were quite a few because it kept getting postponed. During that time, CMS asked us to do things that hadn’t been done before, such as converting the Medicare Severity Diagnosis Related Groups (MS-DRGs) from ICD-9 to ICD-10. We had to do it so that the same patient record, whether coded in ICD-9 or ICD-10, would be assigned to the same DRG. It was called being “budget neutral,” and it was a big deal.  

The stakes were high because we’re talking about Medicare inpatient hospital reimbursement, which is a serious amount of money. We had to come up with other things like the mappings, called the General Equivalence Mappings (GEMs), get ICD-10-PCS ready for prime time by finishing development, along with creating the initial coding guidelines and basic training resources for others like AHIMA and AHA to use in developing their training programs and textbooks and so forth. We took the first steps when none of this stuff had really been thought through in nitty-gritty terms. It was a very challenging time, very stressful at times, but also very fun because the days were full of intense problem-solving sessions, one after another—that was my life for years and years.

What has been your proudest 3M HIS moment been so far?

My proudest moment was delivering the presentation describing the plan to convert the MS-DRGs to ICD-10. I gave the presentation at CMS’ headquarters in Baltimore, in the same room where the Coordination and Maintenance (C&M) meetings were held before they switched to Zoom. Usually, the space was pretty empty, with just a handful of audience members besides the presenters. But in this case, the room was packed. I was super nervous; my heart was pounding like crazy, but I had practiced, and once I began, I got into my zone.  

It was very well received; there was a round of applause at the end, which is unusual at these things. Pat Brooks came up afterward and said, “You’re a rockstar!” She was so relieved it had gone off well, and so was I! There was a lot riding on that first presentation. While that is a fun memory, I am glad that my years of standing up in front of lots of people are over and I get to work in the background where I like to be. 

What is your favorite part about your job?

I love having the opportunity to work on novel problems. There is less of that now that we are more in maintenance mode with ICD-10. With ICD-11 on the horizon, though, who knows what fun stuff may be in my future? I say, bring it on! 

We are honored to feature a few individuals who are a part of a fantastic group who have shared their expertise and talent to help 3M HIS thrive over the years. Click here to read more stories of 3Mers as we celebrate 40 years of 3M HIS!

Rhonda Butler is a clinical research manager with 3M Health Information Systems.