AtlantiCare CIO: Why the coronavirus pandemic has spurred 'real innovation' + how healthcare will move forward 

Federal and state regulatory relaxations coupled with increasing social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated telehealth adoption and paved a new way for healthcare innovation, according to Christopher Scanzera, vice president and CIO at AtlantiCare. 

Mr. Scanzera, who has served as CIO at the Atlantic City, N.J.-based health system since 2010, told Becker's Hospital Review that the rapid technology adoption has fostered "more innovation in the past four weeks than in the recent and somewhat distant past." 

Here, Mr. Scanzera discusses how he expects the healthcare industry to evolve post coronavirus pandemic and why IT strategy will play a key role in supporting AtlantiCare's business and clinical operations.  

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What is your IT team's top three priorities during the coronavirus pandemic?

Christopher Scanzera: The first is the safety of our people, patients and families, which is paramount. Second is practice collaboration and cooperation, not competition. And third is to get the technology deployed, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – we can go back and fine tune later. 

Q: How will the coronavirus pandemic affect your IT and innovation strategy and focus over the next 18 months?

CS: There will be a new normal. Technology adoption vis-à-vis tele/virtual health and regulatory relaxation have fostered more innovation in the past four weeks than in the recent and somewhat distant past. It will be hard to imagine going back to an 'over-encumbered’ model after we have experienced the benefit of fewer restrictions and real innovation. 

We will not transition from crisis to normal. Rather, we will move from crisis, through multiple periods of aftershocks, through to eventual stability. We will be treating this in waves of severity – preparation for surge, managing the apex and navigating through recovery.

We have experienced a seismic shift in business and clinical workflow models. As a driver and supporter of change, IT will need to stay closely partnered with the business and clinical operations as they take time to figure out the new normal.

Digital technologies will continue to be the answer to consumer demand outpacing provider supply of services. This will include the provision of digital products and services, consumer generated data, digital health/digital front doors.

Q: Do you have any tips or lessons learned for other CIOs across the country?

CS: Here are a few of my tips for other CIOs: 

  • Update training – Clinicians will be working in roles/parts of the organization to which they are unaccustomed. Be prepared to support the end user community in their new roles
  • Signage, direction and wayfinding – Ensure messages are clear, current and easily understood as clinicians, patients and families navigate the facilities
  • EMS to emergency department communications – Ensure links are fully functioning to ensure accurate communication regarding inbound COVID-19 patients
  • Clinic to patient communications – Ensure cellular, text, web, mobile app and automated call apps are functioning correctly with correct messaging
  • EHR configuration – Ensure any system building and testing, such as new services, bed tracking for converted beds, patient tracking, patient room EVS status, biomed equipment cleaning, user accounts and permissions, is complete to address changes in workflow that will be required to address patient surge and peak demand
  • System capacity – Be prepared to support new and increased levels of remote workers through Citrix, Skype, virtual desktops and Microsoft cloud-based productivity solutions
  • Telehealth capability – Be prepared to support a new and increased demand for virtual technologies. Be mindful of security related requirements, albeit relaxed.
  • Information security – Be aware and have heightened preparedness as bad actor activities have been on a steady rise. We are in unprecedented times creating unprecedented vulnerabilities.  

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