'Digital health will just be healthcare': What hospital digital chiefs expect in 5 years

Healthcare will be more virtual, automated and consumer-friendly five years from now, while digital integration will feel seamless, several health system digital leaders told Becker's.

"Just as we no longer talk about electronic commerce as different from business generally, we are at the point where digital health is simply health," said Daniel Barchi, executive vice president and CIO of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health.

At CommonSpirit, which has 143 hospitals across 22 states, that digital shift includes using the Catholic health system's scale, mission and digital population health tools to "aggregate data and help clinicians and patients partner to manage their wellness," Mr. Barchi said.

"In five years, we will have adopted, integrated and implemented several different technologies at Jefferson," predicted Nassar Nizami, executive vice president and chief information and digital officer of Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health. "Digital health encompasses a cultural transformation of traditional healthcare."

The health system plans to improve upon its AI technology that already helps physicians access the risk of cancer in lumps or nodules, the risk of stroke in CT scans, and patients' chances of needing blood transfusions, Mr. Nizami said. Jefferson is using automation to reduce administrative tasks in IT, human resources, sourcing and through its virtual nursing pilot. Its JeffConnect telemedicine program encompasses mobile health and remote patient monitoring and has been a model to other health systems it has advised on launching similar initiatives.

Pittsburgh-based UPMC is focusing its digital efforts on boosting access to care and driving efficiencies through automation in departments like the call center and scheduling, said Brenton Burns, executive vice president of UPMC Enterprises, the health system's innovation and venture capital arm, where he oversees digital solutions.

"Digital tools are allowing us to think outside of our traditional walls to provide care across a diversity of formats and settings, including via telemedicine or in the home," Mr. Burns said. "Clean, accessible and interoperable data are critical to ensuring our success, so we are continuing to build those capabilities internally."

Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health is not only working to build up its own digital capacity but support other health systems through its digital health subsidiary, Accrete Health Partners.

"As an organization, we are developing, investing in and partnering with industry leaders to provide services and opportunities for systems wanting to optimize their IT operations, improve patient access to care by leveraging leading patient-care solutions, and unlock data, analytics and automation needed to engage patient populations," said Jason Szczuka, chief digital officer of Bon Secours Mercy Health.

New Orleans-based Ochsner Health is planning to scale its asynchronous virtual tools like e-visits and e-consults, make online scheduling more available, and boost its AI and remote monitoring capabilities, said Denise Basow, MD, executive vice president and chief digital officer.

"We are using technology to be more predictive, preventive and personalized in our approach to health, to manage patients efficiently and effectively in ambulatory and home settings, and to lower the total cost of care in a value-based environment," Dr. Basow said.

Orlando (Fla.) Health is investing in its foundational IT platforms, infrastructure, data and analytics to better connect providers and patients wherever they are physically located, said Novlet Mattis, senior vice president and chief digital and information officer. The health system also plans to establish an enterprise digital platform embedded with clinical decision support tools.

"By prioritizing digital engagement using simple, secure, fully integrated products and services — whether that be for virtual visits with your care team, care within the hospital, or for advanced hospital care at home — we envision digital health in five years as more of a norm rather than a new innovation in one's health and wellness journey," Ms. Mattis said.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Advocate Health, which was recently formed through the merger of Atrium Health in Charlotte and Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois and Wisconsin, is using its increased reach to accelerate its digital transformation, said Kelly Jo Golson, executive vice president and chief brand, communications and consumer experience officer.

"This will only be achieved by putting the consumer first in all that we do," Ms. Golson said. "It means meeting our patients where they are, anywhere, anytime; building a flexible, dynamic platform with a consistent experience and simplified scheduling for every Advocate Health touchpoint; interconnected programs that tap into advances in remote patient monitoring; and new care delivery systems that embed 24-7 virtual access into our clinical workflows."

Nashville, Tenn.-based Ardent Health Services is working to make care easier to access, whether it's in person or digital, by building, investing in or partnering around solutions, said chief consumer officer Reed Smith.

"Digital health will just be healthcare — there will be no segmentation between how it is delivered," Mr. Smith predicted. "The consumer will have more at their fingertips, and we will leverage our care teams to support patients through interdependent locations. Individuals want to find information and take action on their own in a DIY fashion — care will follow suit, especially for lower acuity needs."

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