“Sometimes technology is just not enough.”
It’s not exactly a surprising statement to hear during a panel discussion on uniting silos in healthcare. At least, it shouldn’t be — unless, of course, the source is CEO of a company that provides medical device and security platforms.
But for Jonathan Langer, who is also co-Founder of Medigate, breaking down silos isn’t just a business; it’s something that has become “near and dear” to his heart. What he has learned, however, is that the problem is far more complex than many people believe — and therefore, so is the solution.
“Technology can do a lot, and it’s certainly key to everything that we’re doing, but sometimes it takes more,” he said during a recent webinar, which also featured Craig Richardville (Chief Information & Digital Officer, SCL Health) and Jes Cornelius (CIO, Sutter Health). “It takes people to listen.”
It also requires understanding the “unique and complex” issues healthcare leaders face when it comes to unifying silos to ensure operational effectiveness. The best way to do that, according to Richardville, is by examining why divisions exist. One reason is the rapid growth that systems like SCL Health have experienced in recent years, which can result in “different cultures colliding,” he noted. The leader’s role, in that situation, is to “digest some of the new entrants into the system and make sure they’re aligned with what’s happening at the top level.”
The reality is that as organizations expand, confusion often arises as to which department IoT maintenance falls under, according to Langer. “Different groups have ownership of different assets, and they have different cultures, different processes, and different types of tools.” And so when connectivity started to emerge, “we began to see more overlap between the groups.”
And that can create cumbersome process, which can lead to frustration and miscommunication. For example, if there is a security incident with a medical device in an organization where silos exist, both information security and clinical engineering would need to be involved, as both can claim ownership. “Sometimes getting the two to work together takes much longer than it should because of a lack of communication,” Langer added. “Sometimes it’s more of a communication gap than a technological gap.”
Cornelius agreed, noting the focus should be on ensuring all departments are headed toward the same destination, and using the same map to get there.
“We need to have one strategy across the board — not an IT, biomed or security strategy,” she noted. At Sutter Health, where Cornelius took the CIO reins six months ago, her team is focused on “getting away from traditional IT work and thinking about how to partner with operations to determine what the need is — not just the ask — and make sure we’re aligned with the overall strategy.”
Part of that means resisting the urge to solve problems piece by piece, and instead looking at the big picture. “That’s actually been very effective and has helped us really partner with operations because they feel like they can actually drive change, and we see IT as enabling that,” she said.
Richardville agreed wholeheartedly, adding that being able to “step back and look at the whole picture” is paramount, particularly when it comes to breaking down silos. “First and foremost you’re a leader, and you have the ability to look across all the different divisions and say, ‘Here’s how we want to try to solve this problem or fill this gap.’ I really am a big fan of making sure we’re leaders first before we put the CIO hat on.”
When that hat is on, however, one of the CIO’s core objectives is to create a culture that fosters collaboration. “I think culture can drive not only how we resolve issues, but how we hope to transform ourselves from an environment of continuous improvement to an environment of transformation,” noted Richardville. “It creates a whole new level where you’re not just getting better than you were last year, but marginally taking steps forward. I think that’s exciting.”
And while there is no single blueprint for how to establish the right culture, there are practices that can be adopted, including the following:
- Open up. Although it was the physical space that first attracted Richardville to SCL Health, the culture of “openness” has extended into the virtual space, where teams leverage chats, texts, and video to interact throughout the day. “It’s been great,” he said. “When you have a whole team coming together, it really is a very attractive place to be.” Cornelius has had a similar experience, adding that working remotely has enabled her to “share the vision with more people and get more perspectives.”
- Make it safe. Now more than ever, leaders must “make sure people opinions and thoughts are valued, and that they’re in a safe place,” said Richardville, who believes titles shouldn’t stand in the way of discussions. “It doesn’t always have to be lateral. If you want to talk to my bosses, go talk to them. They may have a perspective that I may not be able to share.” In doing so, leaders are able to encourage individuals and help them continue to grow.
- Take it to the grassroots level. One of the key components in changing the culture is in empowering individuals, according to Cornelius. To that end, Sutter has formed a grassroots movement in which groups of 8 to 10 individuals work together to address issues. “It’s a great way to have interactions with people, while at the same time encouraging them to solve problems,” she said. Langer agreed, but cautioned that when getting groups together, it’s critical to ensure everyone can access the same data, and that there’s a single source of truth. Otherwise it could result in “a lot of frustration,” he said. “Tools that allow multiple stakeholders to get everything that they need from an access perspective, from various types of data — that’s really what we need in this virtual age.”
- Don’t manage up. When issues do arise — and they will — it’s imperative that senior levels don’t always have to consult the executive leadership team before taking action, said Cornelius. “We want to make sure we’re not managing up every small problem, but rather, coming together to resolve it.” It’s a significant change, she noted, and it isn’t going to happen overnight. “But if we’ve learned anything from COVID, it’s that we can be very nimble in making those changes.”
Finally, leaders need to strike a balance between hand-holding and a hands-off approach, she noted. “I never want to say, ‘go figure it out on your own.’ You want people to come to you with questions — that’s part of coaching and mentoring,” Cornelius noted. But at the same time, make sure they’re leveraging the many resources available. “Sometimes it’s saying, ‘that’s a great idea. Why don’t you reach out to him or her, then circle back with me.’ You can’t be everywhere all the time. I have smart, wonderful, engaged people within IT and across the organization, and so we can all contribute.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Uniting the Silos that Disrupt Operational Effectiveness Within Your Health System (Sponsored by Medigate) — please click here.