The IT investments to keep health systems from falling behind the competition: Key thoughts from UH Ventures President David Sylvan

UH Ventures President David Sylvan has helped Cleveland-based University Hospitals manage challenges through the pandemic and sees many areas where innovative technologies can ensure the system improves efficiencies and cuts costs in the future.

Mr. Sylvan spoke about his experience leading the health system's venture capital arm in a recent episode of the Becker's Healthcare podcast. Here is a short excerpt from the conversation.

Note: responses are edited for clarity and length.

Q: What challenges are you facing today, and what do you anticipate will be your challenges over the next six to 12 months?

David Sylvan: The biggest challenges today are first, the self-evident challenges that is facing all providers and hospitals: are we in a position to effectively and efficiently continue to care for and treat the influx of COVID-19 patients as well as the non-COVID patients, the procedure loads, surgeries, treatment plans, care transitions, you name it — all of the activities that make up the business of running a nonprofit, academic hospital system. From the perspective of an immediate COVID response challenge, I believe we are doing a tremendous job of positioning ourselves very favorably from a supply chain standpoint, although that depends on the validity of the projected intake of the infected patients. But we took steps to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, how reliant we are on offshore sources for PPE along with the stockpiling that we embarked upon over the last few months.

Over the next six to 12 months, the challenge will be the resiliency and capacity to strain. The pace and enthusiasm and in many cases the courage in which everyone jumped into tackle this challenge was astounding, but it's not sustainable. The mental and emotional toll is something we all need to seriously monitor and when possible deploy whatever resources are available, whether in house or through other avenues in order to help ourselves weather this period that as of yet has no definable end point that we can manage to.

Q: What do you think will be the next investments for UH Ventures and how are you planning on the next year?

DS: There are lots of unknowns, but survival in a razor-thin margin environment like ours makes it imperative to drive efficiencies and lower costs. This is going to be our focus and require investments in both clinical and non-clinical tools and we will continue to lean into both areas. Think for example AI for clinical decision support tools, RPA for revenue cycle functions. We are in the midst of a planning stage with a platform that might elegantly incorporate both. Their tagline talks about enabling a cognitive enterprise; the notion of using the power of data to materially impact outcomes and efficiencies.

I think AI in healthcare projects to be around a $6 billion market in 2021; those systems that are either not yet in the planning or consideration stage in AI from an operational efficiencies perspective are going to fall behind the competition, or succumb especially as we move toward value and away from volume.

One other quick example from our shop: a technology that will materially accelerate the credentialing process for new physicians and nurses. We are very optimistic on the ROI to be had from eliminating a certain number of idle non-billing days for these professionals. We think that will be a differentiator both from the systems revenue outlook as well as the individual clinician experiences as they go through what is just a very laborious and redundant process for them.

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