Data analytics essential before next coronavirus surge, health system CIOs say


The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of robust data analytics and reporting efforts for health systems, and despite budget shortfalls many organizations plan to continue moving forward with their data-centric projects over the next several months.

"We are realigning and reprioritizing our data analytics projects," said Jesus Delgado, vice president and CIO of Community Healthcare System in Munster, Ind. "There is already anticipation that we will have COVID-19 back in the fall. We want to have better data-driven insight into our patient population specific to COVID-19 symptoms."

He also said the health system would focus on IT projects that will save money.

In the last few months, health systems have been using their EHR data in new ways to learn more about patients with COVID-19 and figure out how to best allocate resources, including PPE and staffing. They are also collaborating to share data and information with other healthcare providers in their communities and nationwide. New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health released data gathered by its EHR showing that 88 percent of patients on medical ventilation died and 14 percent of COVID-19 patients were treated in the ICU.

Healthcare organizations have also outlined demographic data about those severely affected by the virus to help hospitals at the tail end of the pandemic better identify high-risk patients. Cleveland Clinic partnered with SAS to create predictive models based on its data. The models forecast patient volume and supply availability and are designed to help healthcare organizations create best-case, worst-case and most-likely scenarios that can adjust in real time. Hospitals are then able to make decisions about how to use ICU beds, PPE and ventilators.

Health systems are focused on improving their data efforts. Linda Reed, vice president and CIO of St. Joseph's Healthcare System in Paterson, N.J., said her team is focused on what life will look like after the pandemic and reassessing how operations will be different given social distancing and how COVID-19 will affect patient engagement.

"We have a couple of projects involving enhancing mobility, virtual visualization within the hospital walls and optimizing telehealth," she said. "We're also going to continue working on analytics and keep our life-cycle projects, so updating our network, storage and cybersecurity platforms. We were very lucky, because at the end of last year we rolled out our electronic prescribing for controlled substances capability, which allows physicians to order controlled substances online during video visits. We will also enhance this capability."

Jeffrey Hoffman, MD, CMIO of Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Children's Hospital, sees the health system's efforts to develop a new data center as important to its future. Since the children's hospital has been less affected than other hospitals by the pandemic, and many of the projects budgeted for the year were already underway when the pandemic hit, the health system is moving forward with a majority of them.

"[The data center project] has already called for a drastic reduction in nonessential IT work to free up multiple teams to support the data center move schedule, so we did not see a dramatic reduction in project work as a result of COVID-19. Of course, as the crisis drags into Q4, I'm certain it will be a factor in both budget and project decisions for next year," he said.

Tom Barnett, CIO of University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, said the health system plans to redouble focus on partnering with operational leaders to achieve efficiencies when possible.

"I can also see this pairing nicely with a more narrowly focused analytics strategy to produce the information and intelligence to help us all locate additional cost or workflow efficiency opportunities and make sure that we are working with as much knowledge as possible. We want to make sure that we are wringing every bit of value out of our current systems and operations that we can," he said.


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