Nothing has been easy in 2020. As healthcare leaders have battled with the myriad challenges stemming from the pandemic – while also having to contend with natural disasters, cyberattacks and other crises – keeping the lights on has never been more difficult.
And yet, doing just that is no longer enough, said Aaron Miri, CIO at Dell Medical School and UT Health Austin. “If that’s what you think being a CIO is, quit. Do all of us a favor and get out of the job, because you’re ruining it for all of us who are partnering with the business.”
Strong words? Perhaps, but Miri strongly believes that as consumer expectations continue to grow and mature, it’s incumbent on health IT leaders to identify the right solutions to meet those needs, and partner with other stakeholders to deliver on them. It’s a dramatic shift from the traditional model, and one that can help drive organizations forward, he said during a recent webinar, which also featured Lee Milligan, MD, CIO at Asante, and Vik Nagjee, Director of Healthcare and Managed Services with Sirius Computer Solutions.
As digital solutions continue to play a larger role in how care is delivered — something that has been amplified in recent months — Milligan believes leaders need to be focused on implementing a platform not just for telehealth, but digitization. “We’re looking at opportunities to bring in technology where it doesn’t currently exist to add business and clinical value.”
But as CIOs embrace this new dynamic, the obstacle many face is how to accommodate the evolving needs of both patients and providers in innovative ways — without sacrificing quality. “The increase in access to telehealth has made it clear that we can have that consumer experience in healthcare,” said Nagjee, whose most recent role was with the Cleveland Clinic. “But behind the curtain, there’s a lot that needs to be figured out.”
And although some organizations have a team focused solely on innovation, or have the resources to recruit executives from retail, for most, consumerization efforts fall largely on IT leaders. This, however, doesn’t have to be a bad thing, said the panelists, who provided best practices on how to manage the dual (and often competing) challenge of keeping the lights on while also developing innovative solutions.
- Give the people what they want. The best way to understand what consumers want, according to Miri, is to ask. At UT Health Austin, this is done through a few different methods, one of which is sending a text message to patients when they exit the facility, asking them to rank their experience and provide input as to how it can be improved. The results, not surprisingly, have indicated that consumers want to engage with providers in a way that’s convenient, user-friendly and intuitive. “Healthcare has been so landlocked and traditional in terms of its reimbursement models,” he said. “If you’re not paying attention to your digital properties, your website, and your engagement tools, you’re going to be left in the dust.”
- Map it out. What’s also critical is realizing that it’s not just about patients and providers; “it’s family members, med students, researchers, and the community at large who might want to share data,” said Nagjee. By putting together a “map” of these constituents or consumers, “you can start to lay the underpinnings to understand who they are and what their expectations are.” It’s a far more complex proposition than in retail, he said, which makes it all the more critical to identify the landscape and put together a “well-articulated plan.” For example, if a healthcare organization wants to provide drive-through testing services, there are questions that need to be answered, from how tests are going to be administered, to how local traffic patterns may affect the numbers, noted Miri. “All these things have to be flowed out. You need to understand the needs of consumers; as a CIO, that’s the name of the game. It’s workflow, it’s identification, and it’s journey-mapping each of those personas and how they’re going to experience Covid-19 testing.”
- Mind the gap. When the telehealth curtain is rolled back, it reveals a number of technologies and apps running inside data centers, in the cloud, or a hybrid of the two, said Nagjee. “The CIO is responsible for safely and reliably delivering to every constituent,” and, of course, doing it in a seamless fashion. To that end, he recommended employing a gap analysis that includes establishing a baseline, taking into account key factors, and determining how to package it up for users.
- High-level SWAT. Along similar lines, Miri advised using a “high-level SWAT analysis” of what an individual or group needs, then going through each step of the clinical workflow and asking, “what are the operational decisions? Who owns this? How would the EMR play into this? And from that, what is missing and how can it be addressed?”
- Don’t operate in a vacuum. A critical step in any analysis is to ensure it’s not being done in a vacuum, said Miri, who often partners with the chief clinical officer and clinical informatics team to work through issues. “That’s how you do it — as a group and as a community,” he noted. “You rally the troops around a common cause.” And when clinicians are involved, the key is to “follow their workflow”; that way, leaders can “figure out what these people actually need and what is ailing them.”
- Shorten the plan. After taking on the CIO post at Asante, one of Milligan’s first tasks was to shrink the timeline of the strategic plan from three years to one, a move that he said enables his team to be more proactive. The other was to ensure that IT’s strategic plan was based off the enterprise-wide strategy. In doing that, “we can determine what capabilities need to be in place in order to support that vision. And beyond that, what tactics are needed to accomplish that,” he noted. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to be simplified. It’s going to be connected directly to where the enterprise is going, and it’s going to be nimble.”
- Governance is king. The other advantage in aligning IT initiatives to the overall strategy is that “it carries much more weight as it goes through the governance process,” said Milligan. “That’s why I think it’s critical to understand which projects are directly aligned with it.”
Miri agreed, adding that by going through the proper governance channels, CIOs are able to involve other operational leaders in the process and help them understand how it plays into the larger ecosystem. “This isn’t IT; it’s business technology. We’re here to enable the business. We tee up the options, but it’s up to the business to tell us where you want to go with all the data at your fingertips.”
Finally, CIOs must learn how to strike a balance between the practical and the creative that fits into their leadership style and core objectives. And that means understanding where the organization wants to go, and finding solutions that can “drive the business forward,” said Miri. “Be the innovation engine. Be the idea person. You don’t have to come up with everything yourself, but you have to enable it.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Digital Healthcare: Keeping the Lights On & Consumers Happy — please click here.
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