Of the myriad ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic transformed healthcare, none was quite as dramatic as the rapid rise in telemedicine and other digital tools. And while the numbers receded after the initial spikes, digital health had finally left its mark.
“It gave everyone, including physicians, a taste of what digital can do for healthcare,” said Joel Vengco, Chief Information and Digital Officer at Baystate Health. “It proved that this can work; that having access to digital tools and leveraging data can help deliver better care.”
For CIOs and other leaders, the progress gained during the pandemic offers an opportunity to capitalize on the goodwill that’s been established and push forward the innovative ideas they’ve had in their back pockets. “It’s critical to the progress of digital that we as IT professionals take the reins,” he added. “We need to leverage our digital capabilities to make care more convenient so that consumers can get it anywhere and everywhere they want.”
During a recent webinar, Vengco and co-panelists Jacki Monson (Chief Technology Risk Officer, CISO, and Chief Privacy Officer, Sutter Health) and Chris Byers (CEO, Formstack) spoke about how Covid-19 has affected their strategies, the challenges they’re still working to overcome, and how they hope to keep driving their organizations forward.
It won’t be easy, particularly with tech giants like Amazon and Google wading deeper into the market. If anything, it has upped the ante, forcing healthcare organizations to rethink design and delivery to more effectively meet the demands of a digital world. “Healthcare is still behind the eight-ball, now more than ever,” Vengco said, cautioning that if changes aren’t made, “they’re going to eat our lunch.”
A “Different” Experience
The best way to guard that lunch? By creating a seamless experience for patients, and providing a better work environment for both clinicians and IT staff. The former has been a long time coming, according to Monson. “We’re looking to provide care in a way that meets people where they are, which is very different,” she said. Now, the focus is on how to make care more efficient, and “how to transform technology to accommodate that patient experience.”
That’s where Formstack hopes to move the needle. Through offerings like paperless data capture and document creation, it aims to simplify workflows and improve efficiency, according to Byers. “It’s about making it simple for patients as they fill out forms and pointing them in the right direction.”
And by helping patients to become more self-sufficient, Formstack’s solutions can also benefit providers and other staff by offloading some of the burden, “which is so important these days.”
Covid “Only Made It Worse”
Another area that has become a bigger for leaders is managing a remote — or now, in many cases, hybrid — workforce, something many organizations hadn’t done before. At Baystate, Vengco’s team is redesigning the office space to create an environment in which both clinical and nonclinical staff can thrive.
The challenge is in striking a balance between usability and security. “We need to figure out how to help the workforce function in a safe manner, while providing them with the technology they need right at their fingertips,” Vengco noted. “With any new technology, you have to talk about the vulnerabilities it can present, and how they’re going to be mitigated. As an IT professional, it’s not just about solving the problem that has been brought to you. It’s about ensuring patient safety is the highest priority.”
Monson agreed, adding that the dramatic rise in telehealth and telecommuting has introduced a new set of risks that have to be monitored closely. “(Before the pandemic) we had a lot of our security controls locked down from a remote workforce standpoint,” but when things changed so quickly, her team had to make some modifications. “Now we’re trying to help them to be as efficient as possible without compromising security. And that has required us to completely transform how we look at entry points.”
Having a Plan B
It has also prompted them to keep a closer eye on third-party products and services, which pose more of a threat than ever before. “There have always been vulnerabilities in biomedical devices and virtually everything that’s connected,” said Monson. The pandemic only made it worse, with healthcare seeing a “huge increase” in cybersecurity threats.
Her team is focused on mitigating those risks, while also working with vendors to implement solutions so that they’re not impacted as much by a ransomware attack, and are able to respond. And it doesn’t stop there. “We’re also looking at what is our plan B,” she noted. “Not only do we need to have better security controls, but we need to have a plan B, because even if we have great security controls, we can still be impacted.”
It’s a lot to keep in mind. And although there’s no blueprint for leading organizations first through a pandemic, then through the “recovery phase” in which healthcare finds itself, there are best practices that can be applied.
- Be a consultant, not a provider. Byers believe it has become increasingly important for CIOs and other leaders to act as more of a solution consultant than a solution provider. “Of course the key systems are always going to be maintained by IT, and must be owned by IT.” But by offloading certain tasks, leaders can “get projects through the queue much faster,” while also providing a framework for teaching individuals how to solve problems. “That’s going to be a big win in the future.”
- Be part of the growth. Vengco believes that although it’s still important to focus on operations, the CIO’s role has become about much more than just keeping the lights on. “You have to understand and be part of growing the business through the use of data and digital, which hopefully you have some ownership of, or at the very least a large hand in.”
- Have access to innovation. Also critical, noted Vengco is having access to innovation and design. “If you don’t have those components, it’s going to be a challenge for your health system to transform, because a large part of that is going to rely on the capabilities of data and digital as well as innovation and design,” he added. “That will help push the organization from a business perspective, which is really your responsibility as well.”
- Partner with operations. Monson believes the pandemic — and the advancement of digital health — presents a prime opportunity for IT and operations to form solid partnerships. “With everything happening so quickly, it became clear that we don’t need one or the other; we need both.”
Finally, she touted the benefits of being proactive, and never saying ‘no’ unless something absolutely can’t be done. Leaders, Monson said, need to “be involved in innovation and figure out a way to get it done in a secure environment.” Besides, those who do say ‘no’ are “just going to get run over by what needs to happen to transform healthcare.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Future State: Industry Leaders Discuss Today’s Priorities & Tomorrow’s Challenges (Sponsored by Formstack) — please click here.