What drives Tampa General's digital transformation despite the pandemic

Tampa General Hospital has the goal of becoming the safest and most innovative academic medical center in America, and its executives will not let the COVID-19 pandemic stop them.

Two years ago, the hospital embarked on digital transformation led by CEO John Couris and CIO Scott Arnold. When the pandemic hit, they decided to stay the course and invest in digital health centered on quality, patient satisfaction, operational excellence, and market growth.

A brief timeline of significant moves and partnerships Tampa General has made this year:

• Feb. 3: Partners with Agathos to provide transparent and actionable clinical feedback to physicians aimed at reducing unnecessary tests and improving communication between clinicians
• Sept. 23: Enters a seven-year partnership with Royal Philips for new software packages, healthcare informatics, consulting, and equipment.
• Oct. 20: Announces a collaboration with BMC, an IT company, to monitor ICU bed count, ventilator count and other statistics on COVID-19 resources.
• Oct. 29: Reports $40 million in savings from August deal with GE Healthcare to launch a command center. The partnership used 20 artificial intelligence applications to optimize patient care operations and used real-time actionable information throughout the hospital.
• Nov. 6: Announces a venture capital fund, TGH InnoVentures, to support innovations and startup digital health companies.

"We have a natural orientation and bent toward leveraging technology for improving access, convenience, quality and cost to the consumer. We realize that we've got to lead the way, or we'll get swept up in the change," said Mr. Couris. "We don't have all the answers, but we appreciate and understand the importance and significance of leveraging innovation and technology to achieve our mission."

He said the hospital aims to collaborate internally and externally to drive innovation and become a catalyst of change in Florida. Mr. Arnold said the hospital is increasing access to care for all community members and making investments to increase capacity and take on more patients. The pandemic really brought the need for many of these initiatives to the forefront and accelerated the trends toward consumerism in healthcare, he said.

"Just like every other health system, overnight we exploded with telehealth earlier this year. Where we are making investments now is in the experience of virtual healthcare delivery," he said. "That has always been part of our plan, but it's taking a more center-stage role, and we have quickened the pace of our virtual care transition and moved up investments on the digital side to make it easier for patients to visit our clinics with a paperless or low-touch environment."

Tampa General has also made large investments to allow for virtual check-ins and updates to the hospital's website, which it will continue to improve over the next year. The hospital is also leaning on partners like GE Healthcare and Philips to implement technology and create protocols that will make care more efficient and lower costs. As a safety-net hospital, Tampa General can also use technology to promote equity in the community.

"One of the things we are most proud of is the fact that regardless of socioeconomic status or ability to pay, we are here for everyone," said Mr. Couris. "An example is our Health Par program, a multispecialty clinic and medical home that follows patients longitudinally and provides generational care. Getting tech into those patients' hands and educating them on the importance of it is critically important and will be part of our journey as we continue to live through our mission."

But not every problem will be solved by new investments.

"There is a tendency in our industry to think that building our way out of a problem is the only way out of the problem," said Mr. Couris. "We are wired to think that if we have a length-of-stay problem, we should build more beds to increase capacity and improve throughput. But then the health system builds more beds, and the length of stay stays the same. We believe we have to build when there's a new need to build, but we also have to do a better job with what we currently have and become more efficient and effective driving quality in a sustainable way."

When health systems become larger, Mr. Couris said, they tend to become more expensive, and that is not the direction Tampa General is going. Instead of investing in more beds, the hospital built a 9,000-square-foot artificial intelligence hub with its command center in partnership with GE Healthcare to implement technologies that will change operational behaviors.

These new investments have brought changes to both the IT and clinical teams. On the IT side, Tampa General is moving away from managing a large data center and moving to the cloud infrastructure. Mr. Arnold is working with his team to retool how they deliver on critical digital assets through the cloud.

"We are focused on analytics and using analytics to manage our work and make it easier for leaders and team members to stay informed," said Mr. Arnold. "We are graduating to a higher level of proficiency with how we put information together so it can be used actionably."

When the transition to the cloud is complete, Tampa General will be able to use the space that formerly housed the data center for patient care. The hospital also aims to use robotic process automation to integrate biomedical equipment with the EHR and is considering ambient listening to record provider notes. Mr. Arnold also expects the hospital to keep pace with technology investments even during the pandemic.

"There will always be uncertainties, but what is certain is tech evolves at such a rapid pace that we like to look about three years ahead to make our plans for tech," he said.

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