“We’re doing things a lot differently. We’re thinking about a future that looks a lot different than in the past.”
It’s a statement most, if not all, healthcare IT leaders can relate to, but it can take on various meanings. For Craig Richardville, Chief Information and Digital Officer at SCL Health, it means acting less like a healthcare organization and more like a technology or retail company. It means paying close attention to where the disruptors are going and integrating it as part of your strategy.
Recently, Richardville spoke with healthsystemCIO about how the pandemic has served as a catalyst for digital health – at least, for those that had a solid infrastructure in place; how SCL Health has benefited from working with startups; and how they’re leveraging data to move toward value-based care. He also shared his take on the importance of being agile, what Covid-19 taught the industry about vendor partnerships, and why he will admittedly “steal every good idea.”
- Working with startups to “plug holes”
- Goal to standardize across the system – “We have a new thought process.”
- Leaders as “chameleons”
- Digital engagement 24/7 – “It doesn’t go to sleep.”
- Shift from long-term strategies to short-term plans
- “It becomes a very fun, dynamic environment.”
- Evolution of disaster recovery – “We want to be part of the solution.”
- Covid-19’s wakeup call
LISTEN HERE USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR SUBSCRIBE THROUGH YOUR FAVORITE PODCASTING SERVICE.
We’re creating a new system with new thought leadership and thinking about how to act as an operating company; as a healthcare system versus a holding company.
That’s where we have to be very agile; knowing that the core values, the core processes, and our foundation won’t change, but all the things that surround it have the opportunity to change, and should change, as our external forces change us.
The digital workforce and digital engagement we’re creating — it doesn’t go to sleep. It’s up and running 7/24. And so whatever the customer needs or the patient needs or the provider needs, we’ll have it available.
As the environment shifts, that 30-day or 90-day plan enables you to more easily pivot that in a different direction, because you don’t have that foothold in place that’s keeping you from turning. It becomes a very fun, very dynamic environment.
I think this woke up our generation to the fact that this is the new norm. We have to be prepared to maneuver and to manage during difficult times.
Gamble: I know you’ve had an interest in working with startups. What kind of impact have you seen there?
Richardville: From my standpoint, there were a few that came to the table that were very nimble and were able to very quickly stand up a product or a service to help us during crunch time. Longer term, there are probably a few that maybe don’t make it through.
I actually had a great call recent with a local company called Vation Venture that solicited other partners to come in and do 30-minute pitches. From that, we’re starting to see that they truly understand not only what happened in the last couple of months — because they’re not trying to solve yesterday’s problem; they’re trying to prevent or understand what happens in the future, and what that future might look like. Many of them are playing in that newer space, whether it’s on the data side with artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots and RPA, or on the consumer side, with how to keep people engaged and have a 360 view of your consumers and employees, and help us become better positioned for what tomorrow might look like.
For me, I was terribly impressed seeing some of these companies pivot very quickly from where they were headed, and trying to solve what the use case is today and will be tomorrow as the industry has shifted. It’s very interesting. I think they’re going to have a huge play for us. I think we’ll still have the handful of very large partners we’ve already selected and had in place, and will continue to mature those relationships, and some of the startups will handle some of the newer problems. I think these startups are going to very quickly plug some of those holes and/or accelerate some of that work. In my mind, that’s going to be part of what separates us from others; having some of these thought leaders who have already done this work in non-healthcare industries come into healthcare and help us.
I don’t think any one of the companies I spoke with — and again, there were a handful — were healthcare specific. Healthcare was just a new use case for them. They’re taking a lot of what they’ve done in other industries and bringing it along. It’s very neat to see that happening.
Gamble: Very interesting. Obviously, there are a lot of challenges specific to healthcare, but because every industry has been hit by the pandemic, I would think now is as good a time as any to work with leaders from other industries. I’m sure there are a lot of synergies that could happen.
Richardville: There certainly are. We will steal every good idea.
Gamble: You have to. So, for the past few months, everything has been moving so quickly. As a leader, how do you help keep things on track without burning out?
Richardville: Actually, a lot of things have come out of COVID that we’ll have to determine, as a company, which were temporary and will need to be sunsetted because they were involved as part of the crisis, and which are best practices that we’ll want to continue to harden moving forward. We’ll also have to determine which opportunities we missed that we need to start migrating and moving toward.
We already have, as I mentioned before, all of our programs set up. And so those lessons and our relationships with internal customers and the understanding of the external forces that are out there (and the external customers as well) is to make sure that we start to operate more as a system.
Going back several years, we were two health systems that came together. We’re creating a new system with new thought leadership and thinking about how to act as an operating company; as a healthcare system versus a holding company. We’ve already made changes under the leadership of our CEO and the governance of our board. This accelerated some of that work that identified places where we have holes. And so we’ll change the processes at each of those different areas in order to make sure we’re standardized all the way across, and only have variation that’s justified or needed; whether it’s a specific type of service or maybe a component of a certain population that might have different demographics, different social determinants, or different environment where we would be able to manage some of that variability as appropriate. And for things that don’t fall into that category, we’ll develop best practices and standardize it across the system.
The fortunate part for us is we’re putting in a new ERP system. For several of our internal customers — human resources, finance, materials — we’ve got a whole new thought process of how we want to mature when that system goes in place at the beginning of next year. We’ve had to delay some projects for a few months, but now we know more going into the assessment, and we’ll be able to prioritize to get the biggest bang for our buck. It’s going to be different than how we would have gone through that process three months ago. With all of these different things, we’re fortunate to be in a very progressive and modern organization that really wants to learn from what’s happening out there and apply it within the health system.
Gamble: Right. It’s that principle of agility and being able to make changes in a short amount of time.
Richardville: You hit the nail on the head. You have to be flexible; you almost have to be a chameleon. There are components that will stay — the internal organs don’t change. But the outside aspects, the things that makes it different as to how it gets through certain parts of its travels, that’s where we have to be very agile; knowing that the core values, the core processes, and our foundation won’t change, but all the things that surround it have the opportunity to change, and should change, as our external forces change us.
Gamble: And I’m sure this applies to what you mentioned earlier about the new structure for digital services.
Richardville: Yes. When I look at the way we’re going to be operating in the digital environment, there are economies and efficiencies to create a much better experience. And you can deliver similar, if not the same, service levels in that 7/24 environment, because the digital workforce and digital engagement we’re creating — it doesn’t go to sleep. It’s up and running 7/24. And so whatever the customer needs or the patient needs or the provider needs, we’ll have that service and that product available. Whether it’s 3 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday or 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, it’ll be the same services all the way across. It’s similar to the idea of transferring money in the financial services sector or making a purchase from Amazon — you can do it at any time. You are the actual destination. That’s what digital is for us; our consumers become the destination, in many cases, for that service.
Gamble: Right. We’ve heard a few people say that the most compelling aspect of the pandemic, from an IT perspective, is what we’re seeing with the patient experience, and how it was forced to change pretty much overnight. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens going forward.
Richardville: It’s going to be fun. Going into Covid, I was having some of the most fun I’d had in my career, because we were really making dramatic changes and seeing very measurable impacts to the organization — to our communities, our patients, and our providers. Part of what the Covid crisis is doing is magnifying the impact and accelerating the work. It’s pretty exciting that we’re going to continue to be able to see iterations of changes and movements over certain much smaller intervals; more 30-day and 90-day work plans versus, ‘what are you going to do next year or in the next three years?’
These things are becoming very agile. We’re stripping out all the non-valued pieces so we can turn these things much quicker and get them into the hands of our patients, our providers, and our customers. It’s a whole new way of doing things. And as the environment shifts, that 30-day or 90-day plan enables you to more easily pivot that in a different direction, because you don’t have that foothold in place that’s keeping you from turning. It becomes a very fun, very dynamic environment. I think it’s one of those things our customers not only expect but will demand.
Gamble: And maybe those 5-year and 10-year strategic plans will go by the wayside.
Richardville: But you do have to have guidelines; things that are certain boundaries. Right now, nobody can predict what next month’s going to look like. Nobody could have predicted six months ago how things would look across the country and even across the globe. No one could have predicted that. But this is the situation we’re in, and so, as these things continue to change — and it’s not just Covid, but anything that could create a huge crisis or a huge opportunity in the future — we have to be prepared to engage and to take advantage when they happen. We want to be part of the solution versus struggling to understand what the problem is.
I saw something that was posted about all the events that happened from 1900 to 1975 — long wars, the Depression, the Spanish Flu, which killed millions of people. All these things had a huge impact. You wonder how anybody survived. We’re going through Covid-19, but we’ve had other crises in the past, and we’ll have more in the future. I think this woke up our generation to the fact that this is the new norm. We have to be prepared to maneuver and to manage during difficult times, and that’s how it’s going to be moving forward. Those things shouldn’t stun us the way this has stunned us. We’ll be much better prepared for any crisis that occurs — as a country, as an industry, and as our healthcare system continues to evolve.
Gamble: Well said. As organizations prepare for more surges, I think we’re going to see a dramatic changes in how it’s handled.
Richardville: That’s right. You need to be prepared before it happens. I want to commend our leadership, from our CEO and our board all the way down — the calm, coolness, and collectiveness in how we methodically made decisions and implemented those decisions, understanding patients and associates and providers and communities. It goes without saying it is an art, not as much a science, in how you collectively manage through this and keep anxiety levels and uncertainty levels down — all those pieces that can create a firestorm — in order to be able to very thoughtfully work through this. It takes a lot.
Gamble: And as people have started to work in different ways, I imagine you can’t lead the same way, and leaders have to be really willing to change the way they’re used to doing things.
Richardville: Yes. It really helps remove the distractions and concerns that surround you and allow you to do your job — and do it well.