For CIOs, the ultimate goal is to be “considered valuable to executive leadership and the board, and not just seen as a cost center.” But in reality, IT is still perceived by many as a back-office function.
And that, says John Kravitz, corporate CIO of Geisinger Health System and the 2020 CHIME Board Chair, has to change. For that to happen, CIOs need to get out of the data center business and focus more on how to leverage technology to move the business forward. They need to formulate digital health, cloud migration, and telehealth strategies, and they need to learn how to address these topics to the board. ITIL knowledge is no longer sufficient; healthcare IT leaders must develop political savvy and boardroom etiquette.
The best way to accomplish that? By leveraging the skills of others, which is one Kravitz’s key goals as Board Chair. In a recent interview, he outlined the four platforms he believes are critical for CIOs moving forward, and talked about how he plans to carry them out.
Gamble: Hi John, thanks so much for taking some time to speak with us. I’d like to talk about your approach as the new CHIME Board Chair. It seems you were really able to hit the ground running when your term began in January.
Kravitz: I did. I’ve been in training for the last year working with [previous Board Chair] Dr. Shafiq Rab, which has been really helpful. He’s a great colleague; we talk all the time. I plan on doing the same to help the next Board Chair get up to speed; it’s a big learning curve if you don’t do it that way. This way we can hit the ground running. It’s much more effective.
Gamble: Let’s talk about your strategy as Board Chair, and more specifically, the roadmap that was developed.
Kravitz: Sure. It actually began last year. At CHIME, when you’re in the Chair-elect role, you’re very much involved in strategic planning for the following year. We had a number of offsite meetings in preparation for developing a strategy going forward.
It’s not a one-year plan; that would be more tactical and not as effective. This is a long-term vision. We worked with CHIME leadership team, including Russ Branzell and Keith Fradenburg, to set a strategy moving forward. Part of my focus is going to be on educational initiatives. CHIME has 2800 members in 57 countries, and the number is only growing. That number is only growing, so there’s a huge need for education.
As healthcare moved toward a managed care environment, we need to look at things like virtual care. How do start to focus less on the bricks-and-mortar approach, and more on providing virtual care in a managed care environment. And for CIOs who haven’t dipped their toes into this area, how do they go about setting up a telehealth program? What does that entail?
I’ve been with Geisinger for 10 years, four as the CIO. Prior to that, we offered telehealth services in areas like stroke, eICU, patient monitoring, and dermatology. We’re continuing to build out that program, and I believe it will be extremely viable going forward.
My focus as Board Chair — and the focus of CHIME as a whole — is, what experiences have we learned that we can share with colleagues, and start to expand that knowledge across the greater community? That’s the intent; ‘this is how we’ve done it, and you might want to consider this approach as you build out your programs.’
Gamble: There’s really a tremendous value in having someone who has been there, done that, especially among healthcare IT leaders.
Kravitz: There is. Especially if they’ve known you as a colleague and CHIME member. I was a CHIME member for 20 years before I decided to run for Board seat. There’s a strong desire to give back to the community we all serve.
Gamble: Sure. So the next pillar you talked about is moving to cloud-hosted environments, something that most organizations are certainly considering, if not moving toward. What are your thoughts there?
Kravitz: It’s a very hot topic, whether you’re talking about migrating a full data center to the cloud, or doing analytics for machine learning or AI, and working with bigger players like Google or Amazon.
The truth is, so many other industries have migrated to the cloud. They aren’t in the data center business. They have a network of data centers that can replicate the data and have it available in the event of a disaster recovery scenario.
As the CIO, that takes a lot of weight off your shoulders, and enables you to do more strategic planning and look at ways to move the organization forward with technology, instead of worrying about a data center. In fact, Geisinger is in the middle of a cloud assessment strategy right now. We have three data centers; I don’t want to be in the data center business long term. It’ll be a transition period, however, because you have equipment that has to be depreciated over years, and you need a phased approach for moving them to the cloud.
There are a lot of benefits with cloud migration. You don’t have to worry about disaster recovery or equipment failures in the data center — that’s all part of a contracted service provided through another vendor. It can help organizations realize a lower total cost of ownership and a higher service level agreement where you have uptime availability written into the contract.
There’s a lot involved; a lot of thinking and a lot of planning, and a lot of cost analysis. We want to share that type of information, because a lot of people are thinking about this right now. It’s becoming an expectation of CEOs: that my CIO of the future is going to be a CIO 3.0, and will help leverage and drive business through technology.
Gamble: Right. The next pillar is the development and deployment of a digital strategy, this is another huge area of interest among our audience.
Kravitz: It is. That’s another area CEOs are looking for: focus on the customer. In our case, Geisinger Health is an integrated delivery network — we have the health system, which is quite large, a health plan with about 600K members, a medical school with graduate programs, and two fairly large research centers. When you look at that, we have a number of different customers, from patients to health plan subscribers to graduate students. It’s not a typical health system where the customer is the patient.
And so, it’s critical to develop a digital strategy where you can provide ease of access — or at least, enable less friction for customers who want to access your services and use mobile services. We need to make it simple and clean so patients can be notified when my appointment is ready, or if there’s a delay. We don’t want them sitting in a waiting room with no insight into what’s happening.
For the CEOs we’ve spoken to, that digital strategy is really important to continue to leverage their business and have technology to support that going forward. That’s why we focused on that.
Actually, there’s a fourth leg, which is advanced leadership skills for the CIO. The goal is to educate CIOs on what’s expected of them; things like political savvy and boardroom etiquette. For example, how to address a board and keep things high-level and succinct. Board members don’t want that much detail. They want to know that you have a plan, and that you can enact that plan and be successful.
It’s also relationship management with the highest level people in your organization: what’s your method for communication and relationship building so that Board members can trust you and look to you as a technology executive who can help move the organization forward? It’s being able to work with community leaders and policy makers. A lot of CIOs don’t have that ability, and so we want to educate them in those areas so they can be valuable to the CEOs.
Gamble: That fourth leg really seems to tie the others together. The focus on being able to communicate with others represents a shift, and it seems like a step in the right direction.
Kravitz: It is. All too often, IT is perceived by CEOs as a back-office function. That has to change. By migrating to the cloud, CIOs become less focused on data centers and more focused on how to leveraging the business to move forward. They’re more focused on providing the best experience for the customer where it’s seamless and frictionless to be able to access our services. That way, we can distinguish ourselves from the competition, because it’s easier to work with Geisinger. I think we need to look at things through this perspective going forward so that we are considered valuable to the executive leadership and the board, and not just seen as a cost center.
Gamble: When you talk about moving to the cloud, I imagine that’s not an easy sell, especially with organizations that have spent large amounts of money on data centers.
Kravitz: You’re absolutely right. It’s a huge investment that a lot of organizations, ours included, have made. We have three data centers; that’s a lot of money tied up.
If we can go to one of the public clouds — and I’m confident we can — whether it’s Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Rackspace. I’d like to sell off a data center or two to have it used for disaster recovery with other clients, and start getting out of the data center business. That way, going forward, I can focus not on infrastructure, but on applications and on providing a level of service to our customers and to the organization to a much greater extent.
Gamble: When we talk about digital health, it’s such a big umbrella. How can leaders approach it in a way that makes it more specific to the goals of the organization?
Kravitz: I’ll give you an example. At Geisinger, we’re looking at how we can accurately identify patients when they come in by using facial recognition. We can then begin the care process through wayfinding tools on mobile devices so that we know right away what type of appointment they have. We’re providing a managed API platform to tie that information in with our EHR system and our CRM system to do that quick integration of data with mobile apps. By pulling this information together, we’re able to send patients a link that enables them to find what they need by clicking a button.
Gamble: Very cool. It’s the type of initiative I’m sure colleagues will want to hear more about. The last area I’d like to cover is advocacy, which is a big part of what CHIME does. Can you talk a bit about those efforts?
Kravitz: Sure. The mission of CHIME is twofold: to provide education and resources for advocacy purposes. Federal government agencies, including HHS, ONC and CMS, will come to CHIME and ask us questions, because they know our members are very plugged into the challenges facing healthcare leaders. They run ideas by us, and I think that shows how highly respected we are to have that relationship with the federal government. We have a very smart group of people; we’re trying to continue to educate and get them higher status so they can become even more valuable to the organizations they work for.
Gamble: One specific area of interest on the policy front is the work being done by the Opioid Task Force, particularly the creation of the Opioid Task Force Playbook, which offers practical steps and use cases for how organizations are dealing with certain challenges. Can you talk more about that?
Kravitz: Absolutely. My hat goes off to the Opioid Task Force. As you might know, one of our members, who is a close friend of mine, lost his son to the opioid epidemic, and we’ve all rallied around him.
I was involved in writing the first four chapters of the Playbook, then I was pulled away for different initiatives. I still participate, but not as much as in the beginning. We’ve got great people from vendors to hospitals to community activists who want to make a change.
Through the playbook, and the webinars we’ve done, we’re sharing experiences with different strategies, such as reducing opioid prescriptions following surgery using proven recovery techniques. The Task Force has really rolled up their sleeves and dedicated themselves to this, because they’ve seen the impacts of this horrible epidemic, and they want change. They’re a phenomenal group, as is the Policy Steering Committee. They work extremely hard, and our leadership is second to none. They make great headway and have garnered a lot of support, especially with the patient identification issue. We’ve gone to the line on that, and we’ll continue to do that with this and other issues.
Gamble: Great. Well, that should about cover it. I want to thank you so much for your time. We wish you the best of luck in your role as CHIME Board Chair, and hope to speak again soon.
Kravitz: Thank you, Kate.
Part 2 Coming Soon…
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