Health innovation insider: 13 rapid-fire Qs with Prisma Health Chief Digital Officer Dr. Nick Patel

Columbia, S.C.-based Prisma Health's chief digital officer, Nick Patel, MD, came into his role in a bit of a unique way — by pitching it himself.

Dr. Patel, who has been an internal medicine physician for 15 years, realized early in his career that clinical staff can spend much of their time scrambling to manage their EHR. He saw an increase in physician burnout, longer wait times for patients and significant increases in cost of care due to inefficiency. This inspired him to explore informatics and find ways to automate the EHR tasks so that physicians could better focus on providing their patients quality care.

He championed workflow optimization and promoted other enhancements to eventually become Prisma's informatics lead. Dr. Patel soon discovered that his health system, like most others, did not "have anyone concentrating on patient experience and engagement from a technology perspective."

Dr. Patel shared this insight with Prisma's CEO after attending a medical conference three years ago where he learned about the emerging position of hospital chief digital officer, a title for executives who drive a hospital's digital strategy. He became Prisma's first chief digital officer in October 2018, and he describes this role as being "somewhere in between" a chief medical information officer and a CIO.

To him, the role focuses on all aspects of next-generation care delivery with a particular focus on the patient and provider experience. He leverages technology to encompass digital health, EHR integrations, patient-facing apps, virtual reality, 3D printing, bedside engagement tools, automation, customer relationship management, online scheduling, technology incubation and healthcare innovation research.

Here, Dr. Patel shares his rapid-fire thoughts on health IT innovation, from the tech devices he can't live without to potential applications for artificial intelligence in healthcare.

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

Question: Mac or PC?  

Dr. Nick Patel: PC.

Q: iPhone or Android? 

NP: iPhone.

Q: What has been your go-to tech device during the pandemic?

NP: My Surface Pro X, HP Dragonfly EliteBook and motorized standup desk.

Q: What innovation or technology has made the biggest difference in your organization's COVID-19 response? 

NP: Automation; we've been using chatbots for COVID-19 screening, employee cleared for work digital badge and return-to-work chats. And using our digital telehealth platform, we've done over 300,000 telehealth visits since March.

Q: What's the No. 1 tech device you couldn't live without at work? 

NP: My tablet PC. It's in my bag everywhere I go; I can do everything on it. I can access my EHR, my whole suite of Office 365 including Teams and Skype for business. I love it.

Q: What's your go-to voice assistant: Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple Siri?

NP: Apple Siri.

Q: If you could add any tool to your EHR tomorrow, what would it be? 

NP: Ambient Dictation Services and AI logic.

Q: Which retail or tech giant will be the biggest disrupter of healthcare? 

NP: Amazon.

Q: What patient engagement tech do you predict will be most used by patients in the next three to five years?

NP: Healthcare chatbots and wearables.

Q: If you could only have three apps on your phone, which would you choose? 

NP: Outlook, Epic and TelemedIQ, for work.

Q: What excites you most about the future of AI in healthcare? 

NP: The predictive insight for early detection of disease and diagnosis.

Q: What's one professional skill you're currently focused on? 

NP: Delegation and time management. Taking time for yourself.

Q: What is one health tool you think should stay analog? 

NP: The bedside human touch and interaction will always be needed for building patient rapport and trust. 

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