There is perhaps no topic in healthcare that’s bigger and more relevant than digital transformation. There’s also no topic that can be interpreted in as many ways.
“Digital transformation can mean a lot of things to different people,” said Sean Kelly, CMO and SVP of Customer Strategy, Imprivata), who moderated a panel on the subject at ViVE23. Kelly, who is also a practicing emergency physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, likened driving digital transformation to “reengineering a plane while still flying it.”
And not just any plane; one that’s filled with patients, nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, and the general public. This one, however, doesn’t come with a flight map. But it does come with a host of challenges, from legacy systems to unstructured data to a culture where IT is still viewed as a cost center.
Fortunately, it’s a burden that leaders are willing to take on.
“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t optimistic about the future of healthcare, and about using technology to transform healthcare delivery,” said Chris Carmody, SVP and CTO at UPMC, who was one of the panelists. “Data is our future. It’s going to make us smarter, more efficient, and more effective, and it’s going to drive better outcomes.”
Along with Carmody, three other forward-thinking leaders — Tressa Springmann (SVP and Chief Information and Digital Officer, LifeBridge Health), Michael Archuleta (CIO, Mt. San Rafael Hospital and Clinics), and William Walders (CIO & SVP of IDN Operations, Health First) — shared best practices and anecdotes from their own experiences to help guide others on their digital transformation journeys.
Below are some of the key takeaways:
Tressa Springmann, LifeBridge Health
On the concept of ‘digital’
The term ‘digital transformation’ may be relatively new, but the concept of “enabling care or business process improvement through technology” is not, said Springmann. The differentiator is in viewing patients and the community as IT-enabled participants in their care delivery. “That informed our initial journey of creating a consumer-first digital strategy. We’ve pivoted so that we’re using technology in different ways. But like most, we’ve been using technology for quite some time. The newness is the focus on the patient as a consumer.”
On working with marketing
“As we’ve tried to position our organization to do a better job at making digital alternatives available to our community, I’m most proud of the relationship I have with our chief marketing officer and our marketing team,” she said, admitting that it’s been “a bit of an awkward journey trying to figure out where those responsibilities lie,” and ensuring that barriers were removed. “From a digital transformation perspective, solidifying a shared governance and relationship with marketing was critical,” particularly when it came to tasks like setting up online scheduling and redesigning the website. “We were able to offer, I believe, an experience that didn’t reinforce the silos of episodes of care that all of us feel when we’re moving through a really complex integrated delivery care system.”
On getting “back to basics” with governance
“During Covid, we rocked. We had our whole executive team solving problems on a daily basis, and they got addicted to it. It’s been a long road getting back to looking at strategy instead of finding ways to get quick gratification on problem-solving,” she said, recalling a touch-list registration project that 5-6 months in before important questions were raised regarding the timing of go-lives. “Covid made us lazy with typical project governance tools. This project didn’t have a robust charter. For us, it was a lesson that it was time to get back to basics. As leaders, even as we move back to strategy, we have to trust but verify, because we weren’t the only ones to develop bad habits.
Chris Carmody, UPMC
On Covid creating a “shared vision”
At UPMC, Covid presented an opportunity to partner and work with different leaders and areas across the institution. “We grew together as organizational leaders to solve problems. When you talk about having a shared vision, it wasn’t IT doing something to the clinicians and operational leaders, or IT being order takers. We partnered to come up with solutions for the fires we were all fighting during Covid. And I think post-Covid, that really helped establish and build relationships that, quite honestly, weren’t there.” One example was data scientists and technologist coming up with creative ideas to solve for legacy problems, “which has been a great step forward.”
On the “decentralization movement”
“Instead of being reactive, like we were during Covid, it’s a more proactive discussion. Where are we going next? How can we skate to where the puck is heading versus where we are now? It’s a decentralization movement we’re seeing where, instead of worrying about building technology around the four walls of our hospitals, we’re making clinical services more readily available to our community” through features like open access to calendars and automatic scheduling for patients, instead of having to rely on call centers.
On care transitions
“One of the biggest issues of healthcare is the transition of care as you move between silos. We’ve all gone through it at one point or another. The challenge is to make it more seamless when someone is already going through a stressful, scary time. To have that disruption is ridiculous. We’re still at this phase where we’re figuring out how to deliver care and how to use technology to solve these problems. I think we have a great opportunity in the next few years to really transform healthcare.”
Michael Archuleta, Mt. San Rafael Hospital and Clinics
On being “antiquated”
“Healthcare is one of the most antiquated industries out there. That’s sad. We are doing the most important thing out there, and that’s saving people’s lives and enhancing patient care. But we’re many more years behind the curve when it comes to technological advancements. We should be leading the pack when it comes to innovation. We should be leading the pack when it comes to true digital transformation. This isn’t an actual business makeover. This is a true technology revolution that really needs to happen.
On Covid helping to create efficiencies
“We’ve seen what Covid 19 has done to this industry. It wasn’t because of the CIO or the CTO that we’ve seen digital transformation. It was because of Covid 19. But we’ve seen the importance of what technology and enhancements do to create better efficiencies for our organization. That’s why I’m such a big advocate for continuing to focus on improving culture and understanding the importance of creating better efficiencies and bringing in startups to really allow us to be more innovative.
On finding “strong business partners”
“If you work in healthcare, the new CEO is the patient. We have to continue to build specific consumer experiences to enhance overall efficiencies for our patients moving forward. Our digital strategy is focused on the business — the roles, the partnerships, and the technologies that we implement. We looked for strong business partners because at the end of the day, there is a difference between a business partner and a vendor. In my opinion, a business partner is an individual that states, ‘my success is your success. Your success is ours.’ That’s what truly changes and digitizes an organization.”
William Walders, Health First
On “stitching together legacy apps”
We have decades-old systems. What we’ve failed to do is put a wrapper around the legacy debt and make it work like it’s one cohesive system. [Health First has] seven EMRs. We have to work on stitching together legacy applications and keeping up with Domino’s Pizza, the most digital company in the world. There are 16 ways to order a slice of pizza. But we give you two ways to consume healthcare: call us or come by. Keeping up with that level of digitization is the hard part.
On doing more with less
“Eighty percent of health systems are not going to hit their growth targets this year. Sixty percent of those are already in the red. We have to do more with less. I have a prediction that the financial crisis in the provider world is going to be the driving force to rationalization, to digitization, and to really forcing some of these technologies to bear fruit from an ROI perspective, and from a true revenue and growth perspective. And if they don’t, they won’t be considered. If you have a solution, you better come up with an ROI greater than 15 percent, and really know the math behind it. Because you’re going to be scrutinized to a level you never have before. Shiny objects are gone. There’s no more keeping up with competing organizations because they have a cool thing. You need to genuinely bring a return to the organization.”