The next frontier in healthcare innovation from CommonSpirit, SSM Health execs

The pandemic has changed how healthcare executives approach innovation and the perception of what is possible.

At the Becker's Healthcare Health IT + Revenue Cycle Management Virtual Event on July 23, SSM Health CIO Sony Jacob and System Vice President, Intellectual Property, Life Sciences & Device, Strategic Innovation at CommonSpirit Health Manoja Lecamwasam, spoke about innovation at their health systems and how the pandemic accelerated efforts. They also spoke about what will be innovative in the coming years, including precision medicine and genomics as well as patient data privacy. Executive Vice President of Editorial at Becker's Healthcare Molly Gamble moderated the discussion.

Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

Editor's note: These responses have been slightly edited for clarity and length.

Click here to view the full presentation on-demand.

Manoja Lecamwasam: Innovation is a really interesting word because it means different things to different people. When the pandemic hit us, we had to find innovative ways of taking care of our patients because we couldn't have them come to our facilities. Telemedicine, virtual visits and video visits, which we considered to be innovation and weren't used that much before, became the mode of how we interacted with our patients. As physicians, patients and caregivers started to get more and more comfortable, it seems like these virtual visits and the innovative ways of connecting with our patients have become the new normal because people are nervous about the pandemic and infections.

Interestingly, in the last three to four months, we've seen generations and populations that were nervous about innovation or hesitant about using innovative methodologies actually accepting and using it because they see how it helps them interact with their caregivers and also makes their lives much easier. It will be very interesting to see how we move forward with each of these populations.

Sony Jacob: Innovation was viewed from an interesting lens pre-COVID and we always tend to take solace in the fact that patients don't always want to use technology to connect. The reality is that the doctors didn't always want to use technology to connect because it was going to disrupt our business model. Healthcare for a long time has been resisting this disruption. We do not want to disrupt ourselves.

The pandemic forced us into disruption and in my own experience at SSM, we moved from being a brick and mortar organization to being a digital organization and did it over a period of weeks. All those processes that required physical presence became digital and virtualized within days. For us, as we look at this today, what does innovation look like for patients going forward? In the past, we thought of telehealth visits as the innovators but they are really not. You're taking the existing physical process of one-on-one interactions with patient and making it digital. That's all that has happened; nothing occurred on the innovation standpoint.

However, organizations are viewing it that way because it's a disruptive business model. In our case, we moved from having 50 digital visits to about 5,000 visits per day and that really triggered a different experience for our patients. If you look at the recent Press Ganey statistics that came out, they are showing that patients have the same level of satisfaction from the digital or virtual visits as they did with the physical visits, which is really fantastic. So what is exciting for me as I look at that, as we go through the pandemic in the next few months, we won't have just patient satisfaction data, but we'll have quality data about virtual visits which is the going to help the federal government and payers make decisions around what is the efficacy of these visits. If the quality is just as good why don't you facilitate those visits and make it more convenient for patients?

At the same time, that concept of innovation is different for patients based on generational gaps and demographic gaps. Older patients want to see more technology used. They are comfortable with the technology and for them that is innovative. The younger generation, the millennials, expect technology. It's a basic entry point. They wake up and look at their iPhones. For them the use of technology is a no-brainer. The next step in the process is to say what does virtualized medicine look like? We have been doing DNA scanning for years now. Can we look at the DNA panel and say for this particular patient, based on the DNA studies, these kinds of medications will work better? That kind of data that exists within our research efforts today has not been used appropriately. If we were to use them appropriately, how much more effective would we be at delivering care.

The definition of care delivery today to a large extent is symptom management; it's not cure. When I think about innovation today I ask the question: Can you use DNA sequencing to drive personalized medicine to the end consumer that actually causes disease. If you're able to do that, now you have changed the scales on how to control access in healthcare. If the patient can get the care that they need by the second visit and doesn't have to come back for more visits, now you've changed the equation on how to create more cost-effective access in the delivery system. So, for me, that is where I look at when I think about innovation; it's not just about technology but how do we incorporate scientific data that has been created and has been available in the delivery of care, leveraging technology to bridge the gap so that what we deliver for our patients cures disease, not just address the symptoms.

Manoja Lecamwasam: To add to what Sony said as well, I think one of the biggest issues of having precision medicine or personalized medicine in sequencing and genomics in community hospitals like we are serving is that it's always happened at research institutions or it has been experimental in research. But 80 percent of care happens within the communities and the interaction between the physicians and the patients is the most important act in healthcare and it needs to get to that interaction, and the way that happens is community hospitals and non-academic hospitals and medical centers start to look at these innovations and incorporate that into care.

In addition to capturing that into genomics and targeted therapy and precision and personalized medicine, can we use technology to see what happens to our patients post-acute when they are away from the hospitals, how do we incorporate that in a way that helps physicians and doesn't overwhelm them. Bringing the whole ecosystem together is the full effect of innovation. That first direction, as Sony mentioned, of this very basic interaction of physician and patient virtually might disrupt some of those issues that we've faced when we were trying to do innovation pre-COVID and it will be interesting to see how we as healthcare providers and patients take these lessons and build on them together.

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