When a group of CIOs gathered at the 2018 Scottsdale Institute Annual Conference to talk about their organizations’ top IT-related priorities, several common themes emerged. This came as no surprise to Peter Smith and Andrew Smith, co-founders of Impact Advisors, who led the discussion and published the results in a recent whitepaper. Perhaps the most important of those themes is the importance of having a strong foundation in place before diving fully into analytics and digital health tools, the authors noted.
In this interview, we spoke with Peter and Andrew about some of the most interesting insights garnered from the discussion, including the “radically different approaches” to innovation, how leaders are looking to support growth, the need for CIOs to take on more of a business leader role, and the catch-22 many find themselves dealing with.
- Partnering with Scottsdale Institute to learn “how leading health systems are preparing for the future.”
- Aligning CEO & CIO priorities
- Digital health trends – “It’s about the emerging consumerism market.”
- Focus on provider-facing tools
- “You have to be able to collect data and make sure it’s appropriate.”
- Balancing IT needs with the budget
- “CIOs are caught in the middle.”
It’s about the emerging consumerism market — how you engage patients in the community and the care delivery model, and how you build a digital model to support access, ease transitions of care, and get information to and from the provider and consumer.
You need to have seamless information that is: 1) captured, 2) in some sort of electronic format, 3) standardized, and 4) normalized. Only then can you directly engage the consumer or the patient. That’s why people struggle with this — it’s the last thing you do.
The prevailing thinking is that in order to be successful, organizations have to offer multiple and varied communication modalities for physicians.
As organizations are looking to become more efficient, they’re becoming much more reliant on technological solutions, and CIOs are caught in the middle. They’re being asked to reduce their spend; meanwhile, the demand for technology is as high as it’s ever been.
Gamble: Earlier this year, Impact Advisors published findings from a roundtable discussion in which 22 CIOs from leading healthcare delivery organizations discussed their CEO’s top IT-related priorities. Why don’t you start by providing some background on how this came about, and what you were hoping to learn?
Andy Smith: Sure. It was jointly sponsored by Impact Advisors and Scottsdale Institute. They typically do a CIO breakout out every year, and we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to learn about how some of the leading health systems are preparing for the future. We gathered these 22 individuals together and asked them to identify the top three strategic priorities for their organization, as defined by the CEO. From there, we did some analysis on the results and presented it as a white paper.
Gamble: So this was done from the perspective of the CIO, with the idea being that they need to be in lockstep with the CEO when it comes to prioritization?
Andy Smith: Absolutely. Every one of the people we spoke with is part of the senior leadership team, and so they have unique insights into what the strategies are, and how they need to be supported.
Peter Smith: We had one panelist jokingly say, ‘Our priorities had better be aligned with the CEO, or we’re in trouble.’ But it was very clear that IT has a heavy opportunity to contribute to the business and operational strategies, and that the IT and business strategies need to be tightly integrated. We weren’t surprised at all to see digital health, patient experience, cost containment, and innovation, and support for growth cited as key priorities, as these are all strategies that enable growth across the organization. It’s bringing together the business and technology components, which is where CIOs come in.
Gamble: As far as digital health being at the top, is that consistent with what you’ve been seeing?
Andy Smith: Yes, very much so. There’s a running joke that if you ask five people what digital health means to them, you’d get 10 definitions. But really, it’s about the emerging consumerism market — how you engage patients in the community and the care delivery model, and how you build a digital model to support ease of access, ease transitions of care, and get information to and from the provider and consumer. But it did not surprise us that that is the top priority and one of the top struggles.
Gamble: Do you attribute this, at least in part, to a desire to remain competitive?
Peter Smith: Absolutely. The majority (17 of 22 CIOs) cited digital health as a key priority — to us, that’s an acknowledgement of the need to create a digital relationship with patients and families to be successful moving forward. Organizations that are able to do that are the ones that will win in the marketplace. There’s a clear correlation between strong digital strategies and economic success.
Andy Smith: The hard thing is that at the top of the hierarchy of need, you need to have a strong foundation. You need to have seamless information that is: 1) captured, 2) in some sort of electronic format, 3) standardized, and 4) normalized. Only then can you directly engage the consumer or the patient. That’s why people struggle with this — it’s the last thing you do. Sometimes we’ll hear people talk about analytics as the last horizon, but digital health and patient experience is part of that as well.
Gamble: And I imagine this is a challenge across the industry, and not necessarily just for smaller organizations, or those with fewer resources.
Andy Smith: It is. No matter how many resources you have and how advanced and innovative you might be, you still have to have a strong foundation. You have to be able to collect data and make sure it’s appropriate; then you can extend it beyond the four walls. There are technological barriers, of course, but there are many more intransigent process and cultural prohibitors to the seamless flow of information.
Gamble: What are you seeing in terms of provider-facing solutions? Is the industry making progress in terms of offering secure communication platforms, or is this still a challenge for many organizations?
Peter Smith: Communication among providers is critical. Tools like voice recognition that can ease the use of technology for physicians are becoming an important component of the CIO’s strategy. The prevailing thinking is that in order to be successful, organizations have to offer multiple and varied communication modalities for physicians.
Andy Smith: It’s also important to note that patient-facing solutions, which certainly fall under the digital health umbrella, are only as good as their endpoint with the provider-facing solutions. And there are a lot of tools around care coordination — whether it involves population health, analytics, telemedicine, or clinical trial enrollments — that can ease communication with provider organization while making sure patients are getting the right care.
Gamble: Another key theme, not surprisingly, is IT cost containment and value realization. I find this particularly interesting; in recent years, a lot of organizations were in spending mode with EHRs, and now we’re seeing a shift where there’s more focus on stretching the dollar. How is this impacting the CIO’s strategy?
Andy Smith: I think CIOs are really conflicted by this one. We weren’t shocked this was on the list — although maybe we were a bit surprised it was ranked so high.
Here’s the conflict: as organizations are looking to provide care more efficiently, they’re looking to contain costs. Given the concerns about reimbursement and the shift from volume to value, that makes total sense. The inconsistency we’re seeing with our clients is that as organizations are looking to become more efficient, they’re becoming much more reliant on technological solutions, and CIOs are caught in the middle. They’re being asked to reduce their spend; meanwhile, the demand for technology and the demand for new solutions is as high as it’s ever been. It’s balancing these two sides.
The organizations that are navigating that inconsistency most effectively are the ones that are able to break their IT spend into two components. One is running the trains and determining how to do that more efficiently, how to outsource pieces of that, and how to build scalable models around easily repeatable processes. And then, correspondingly, the other is in how to invest in more strategic, innovative pursuits.