Mayo ramping Google partnership back up and plans to open AI factory

The pandemic shifted strategic focus and investments for Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic as the system sought to treat patients safely and using resources responsibly during the early days.

Operations are now returning to a more normal cadence and the health system is resuming focus on digital transformation, including its strategic partnership with Google and the roll-out of a new artificial intelligence factory. In a Sept. 1 episode of the Becker's Healthcare podcast, CIO Cris Ross discussed how the pandemic affected the health system's goals and the essential IT investments Mayo plans to make in the next year.

Click here to hear the entire episode and subscribe to the podcast. Register here for the Becker's Health IT + Revenue Cycle Virtual Event, Oct. 6-9.

Note: responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How has the pandemic affected your short- and long-term goals? What is still essential, and what have you put on hold?

Cris Ross: In March through July in particular, we put many things on hold as we had to address the coronavirus pandemic head on. And we had to make economic adjustments caused by coronavirus like temporary furloughs of our staff. We are just finishing that up. The culling process of looking at projects was a pretty healthy exercise; it helped us sort through the 'critical' and the 'nice to have.'

The good news is that our clinical and business leaders were very clear and very decisive, and that made our work easier. We paused some things, we continued some things and we canceled some things. In the short term, we had to slow down some strategic initiatives, like the ongoing construction of the Mayo Clinic cloud in partnership with Google; we just couldn't invest at the same pace, but now we are re-accelerating that program and hoping to get back on track quickly.

Our long-term goals remain largely the same. We are creating this Mayo Clinic Platform, which will make the tremendous capabilities of Mayo Clinic available in digital form worldwide. We are also transforming to become a digital organization focused on patients and health consumers. How can they consume Mayo Clinic in the same way they consume other digital products in other parts of their lives?

We are expanding internationally. We made announcements in the past year about our clinic in London and our partnership in Abu Dhabi. We also continue to invest in our core: education, research and world-class innovation. In a lot of ways, it was interesting to see how people were able to do the same or more with less. People figured out a way to get things done and we learned a lot from that.

Q: What are the essential IT investments you plan to make in the next year?

CR: Let's start with the investments that are directly on behalf of the business. We will continue to build out the cloud base foundation for our platform and digital strategies and accelerate them. That's based on our partnership with Google and moving our data to the Google cloud platform, into a Mayo Clinic cloud that is a secure and private environment that we'll use for patient care but also for innovation.

As part of that, we are excited to say we are going to be opening our artificial intelligence factory in a couple of weeks. We've been doing AI at Mayo Clinic for a long time and we always have a couple of hundred projects underway, but this will be an opportunity for us to focus all that to one environment with rich data sources and lots of tools, so we are excited about the opening of that.

We will also continue to refine and enhance our EHR and systems related to that. We did our big conversion to move onto a single instance of the Epic EHR between 2015 and 2018, but your work is never done. We have to keep working to make it relevant and usable and improve it in all types of ways to meet the needs of our clinicians. Then there are investments in IT that don't have as immediate or direct relations to payoff; it's not one-to-one. The biggest example is, we are going to continue to invest and accelerate our investments in information security in particular as we become a more digital organization with more of our assets presented externally.

We are going to invest in enhanced technologies for our workers from home as we make permanent work from home a much bigger part of how we work. That includes things like communication and collaboration tools. We are all used to this initial stage of virtual work and people are making it work, but we are learning more and more about what is needed and we'll enhance those technologies to continue our case and make us better.

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