How healthcare IT execs approach innovation today: 'What can we do new with what we already have?'

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Crafting strategic and beneficial partnerships with big technology companies has been an important aspect of the CIO's role for the past several years, and the pandemic emphasized the need to sharpen those relationships going forward.

Many health systems are now operating on a limited budget amid the pandemic, which is expected to have lasting effects. However, the pandemic also accelerated strategic initiatives toward virtual care and digital transformation, and health systems are relying now on their technology partners to deliver quality and cost-effective care.

During a panel at the Becker's Health IT + Revenue Cycle Management Virtual Event, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Irving, Texas-based Christus Health Lynn Gibson, CIO of Phoenix-based Banner Health Deanna Wise and Health Innovation Executive and Vice President of Life Sciences and Innovation of Hackensack (N.J.) Meridian Health Sandra Powell-Elliott discussed how they ensure goals are aligned with tech partnerships to continue innovating in the future.

Here is an excerpt from their conversation, lightly edited for clarity. Click here to view the entire conversation on demand.

Question: Given this current fiscal environment and limitations, how can you maintain a culture of innovation at your organizations, and how are those conversations with your teams going?

Lynn Gibson: At the beginning of this year I got a new boss just months before the pandemic hit. He made a statement that I've attached myself to: 'innovation is an unusual term. We have so much technology that we don't take advantage of.' I would bet at any given time we may only utilize around 40 to 60 percent of the power of the tools we've already invested in. I'm telling my team to go back and look at what are some of the technology that we don't use, and what do we use. This morning I had this conversation with our EMR team, asking about whether a particular aspect of the software turned on or not, and if it's turned on, what are we doing with it. It feeds right into innovation because it's a research tool. That's what we are trying to excite our team with: what can we do new with what we already have.

Deanna Wise: What's interesting with healthcare CIOs is that I reflect back on the book that Martha Heller wrote titled "The CIO Paradox" about how we innovate with less budget. I think what's different in the healthcare CIO's toolbox than the typical corporate America CIO's toolbox is that we are used to living on shoestrings and bolting and bubble gumming things together, but it's also about leveraging our costs down in that continuous cycle of always looking for what are the tools we can consolidate. It's not a one-and-done for us; this is an every six months routine where we are constantly evaluating and looking at instead of it's time to renew a big contract and say your license has increased, but seeing what the usage is and removing the licenses from the people who aren't really leveraging the product. It's a continuous cycle, but something we are accustomed.

Sandra Powell-Elliott: One of the things that has been kind of unique, is really tying technology and innovation back to the goals we have clinically and making sure that we have everyone understanding everything that we are doing is to provide a certain level of clinical care and improve outcomes, and making sure we know what we have already that we haven't leveraged to improve clinical challenges, whether that be reducing infections or improving clinical outcomes in surgeries. How are we using what we have today and why aren't we using everything that we have today. That begins to help us bring the innovation strategy that we need to pursue, or realize we have the innovation right in our own capabilities, but we just aren't leveraging it.

On the innovation investment side, one of the things we have to keep pushing is that innovation is really about people. Without people, there is no innovation. We can have technology, but it's about how we implement and use it. Going back to Lynn's comment about making sure that people understand and engage, even though it might mean a little extra work, if you can't stay with a vendor for any purpose, it's tying that person's role directly to why we are doing what we are doing and how their role will impact our ability to change moving forward.



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