To say that healthcare IT has come a long way in recent years is putting it mildly. It has, in fact, elevated — both literally and figurately.
“We went from the basement of the hospital to the top floor with the executive suite,” said Luis Taveras, CIO at Lehigh Valley Health Network, who spoke on a panel during the NJ/DVHIMSS Fall Conference, held last month in Atlantic City, NJ. As a result, “the role we have is much different today.”
During the discussion, Taveras spoke on a panel along with Tom Gordon (SVP and CIO, Virtua Health), Shakeeb Akhter (Chief Digital & Information Officer, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), and Edmund Siy (SVP and Chief Digital & Information Officer, Hunterdon Health). The discussion, moderated by Rich Temple, VP and CIO at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, touched on a number of topics, including how leadership roles have evolved, how the pandemic has affected their strategy, and what they’re doing in the artificial intelligence (AI) space.
A new playbook
Whereas years ago, the CIO position was “very much technology driven,” nowadays Taveras considers himself “a senior executive first and an IT person second.”
Gordon concurred, noting that this mindset will become increasingly important as technology becomes further embedded into all areas of the organization, and the traditional 5-year roadmaps morph into more dynamic, agile strategies. “You can’t just be technical,” he said. “You need strong informatics teams, clinical teams, and data science teams, and you need those teams to work together well.”
Never was that more clear than when Covid-19 rocked the industry in the spring of 2020, and even the late adopters had to embrace a nimble mindset. Seemingly overnight, telehealth and remote work programs were launched, and pop-up clinics were created to meet overwhelming demands.
“We had to turn on a dime, and we did,” said Taveras. The flipside of having accomplished so much, so quickly, is that the bar was raised. Projects that typically take six months or longer were completed in six days.
That bar, however, still hasn’t come down.
Despite the economic pressures facing most organizations, IT teams are still receiving funds, along with lots of requests, said Siy. “You would think they would be diverting money away from IT; if anything, they’re doubling down.”
Great AI expectations
And the hype around AI has done nothing to quell the expectations being placed on the shoulders of CIOs, CDIOs and other leaders. “We probably get asked about it every day,” said Siy, referring to generative AI. Since the model hit the market last November, it has dominated conversations at conferences and events, and piqued the interest of senior executives who want to see their hospital join the ranks of AI adopters.
This is where CIOs have to provide “a sense of realism,” according to Taveras. “They don’t realize that what they hear in the exhibit hall is much different than what we can do in our organization.” What they don’t want is to “jump into AI” based on hype.
The smarter move, said Siy, is to map out a plan, which his team has done by forming a committee led by representatives from privacy, IT, clinical and other areas. He also advised taking a “crawl, walk, run approach,” as Hunterdon Healthcare is doing with its implementation of Google’s Duet AI solution. Doing so, he noted, enables them to “balance the excitement around something new and shiny with the transformational effect.”
Bringing real value
That type of strategy can also help ensure that organizations are making the best choices — not just for the present, but also for the future, according to Taveras. “Eventually, this hype will quiet down, and you’ll get stuck with solutions that make no sense,” he said. “What we do has to bring value to the organization and improve our ability to care for patients. That’s the bottom line. We need point solutions that meet those criteria; not just doing AI for the sake of doing AI.”
It’s precisely what the panelists have tried to do at their organizations, where AI is being leveraged to better predict sepsis, more effectively manage in-baskets, and improve workflow.
Each success story, according to Akhter, shares a common thread. “We’ve focused on digital transformation strategy on solving real clinical problems. You have to anchor yourself to that.”
One of those problems is burnout, which his team looks to alleviate by using ambient voice technology to help with documentation, enabling more face time with patients. “There’s a lot of opportunity.”
The same can be said for patient experience, an area in which healthcare has notoriously lagged behind other industries. The first step, according to Akhter, is to make it easier to receive care and gain access to providers. To that end, CHOP is working to digitize the check-in process and automate form filling — which isn’t a complex undertaking. “That’s not AI; that’s basic technology and integration,” he noted. But by enabling patients to check in online, organizations can tackle one of the biggest problems in healthcare.
“We’re in this mindset of what’s best for the hospital system; but really, what’s best for the hospital system is also what’s best for patients,” Akhter said. And that, he believes, is to create an environment that is seamless, easy to work with, and focused on consumer preferences.
Gordon agreed, noting the ultimate goal is to “put something in front of a person and all they have to do is click.” Convenience has become more important than ever, and CIOs need to be laser-focused on delivering a better experience.
“This is not super challenging,” he added. “The ability is there, and the technology allows it. Let’s get this working.”
And fortunately, no one has to do it alone. As the panel — and the entire NJ/DVHIMSS Fall conference — demonstrated, one thing that hasn’t changed about the CIO role is a willingness to share best practices and swap stories.
“We really are all in this together,” said Temple. “We come from different organizations, but we’re all trying to fulfill the mission of making healthcare better and more accessible.”