What was the biggest missed opportunity for healthcare IT in 2020? 5 hospital CIOs weigh in

The year 2020 has turned nearly every aspect of healthcare on its head, and the industry's IT field was no exception. 

While the teams handling hospital and health systems' IT systems made significant, necessary changes to help provide patients with quality care and keep operations afloat during the pandemic, reflection would prove that there were some improvements health IT professionals failed to implement in 2020.

Below, five hospital and health system CIOs share what they think were health IT's biggest mishandlings and missed opportunities in 2020:

Michael Restuccia, senior vice president and CIO of corporate information services, Penn Medicine (Philadelphia): I believe one of the biggest missed opportunities identified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for a mechanism (organization, committee or group) to rapidly identify, develop and share common information services requirements and solutions to the health systems throughout the country. In lieu of such a mechanism, over 5,000 information services organizations needed to individually gather requirements and develop responses such as EMR modifications, clinical alerts, analytics, reporting dashboards and many other pandemic-related functionalities. Such an approach put information services in a defensive position that often limited their health system's ability to proactively respond to the impact of the pandemic.  

Several organizations, most notably the University of Washington Medicine (UW Medicine), shared their information services response to the initial phases of the pandemic. This feedback was particularly valuable to healthcare organizations outside the northwest portion of the United States, which encountered the wrath of the pandemic several weeks/months later than the Northwest. At a minimum, frequent organized discussions amongst national information services leaders would have been beneficial. Perhaps there are mechanisms already in place to address this requirement, but if there are, it was an opportunity I missed.

Zafar Chaudry, MD, senior vice president and CIO, Seattle Children's Hospital: In 2020, patients, parents and caregivers expect more from their digital experiences. They want to feel consulted, included and be recognized for their opinion. Healthcare delivery organizations are definitely providing and customizing digital experiences, accelerated by COVID-19, but they have missed the opportunity to engage patients more in their haste to get to market with these new tools. Healthcare delivery organizations need to provide patients with the choice to determine what they want within the digital experiences offered. When they choose their own experience, patients want to know how that information is used when they choose their own experience, during their care experience and after. 

Healthcare delivery organizations must support a new co-ownership paradigm with patients, and work to design their digital offerings to accommodate various levels of stakeholder input. At Seattle Children's, IT has its own advisory panel of parents and patients that helps us decide what technology experiences to offer our patients. Most recently, one of the parents was a key part of our Epic EHR implementation team, for example.

Ash Goel, MD, senior vice president and chief information and informatics officer, Bronson Healthcare Group (Kalamazoo, Mich.): The ability to better handle the supply chain vagaries and provide nimble and visible data to operations on these, the flexibility to coordinate across the ecosystems of healthcare providers to load balance supplies (testing, ventilators and PPE, among others), human resources and improve shared clinical knowledge of experiences from Northwest to Northeast would have been huge. 

We certainly have learned that we need to start thinking about this as a "together we" rather than "I" problem — and use combined capabilities to open ourselves to removing the barriers we sometimes build to seek competitive advantage when we are all working on the same goal. It would be remiss for me to not acknowledge that we have come a long way, but we need to get better organized and more effective.

Michael Elley, CIO, Baptist Health (Little Rock, Ark.): It is easier to share what went well in 2020 than what were the biggest mishandlings, as all healthcare organizations and IT departments pivoted in tremendous fashion to meet the daily changing needs forced upon us by the pandemic. The most disheartening gap in what healthcare organizations struggled to provide was a way to connect those patients who did not have or were unable to operate mobile devices to connect them to their loved ones. Clinicians and hospital staff often had to provide their own personal devices to connect dying patients with their loved ones. I experienced this myself, as my grandmother who was in memory care assisted living died of COVID-19 while my mother and her siblings could only see and hear her through the nurse's personal cellphone.

Tom Gordon, senior vice president and CIO, Virtua Health (Marlton, N.J.): The pandemic caused health systems to react quickly and drive care to a virtualized environment for patients, providers and staff. This quick reaction didn't provide enough time to carefully consider the integration and seamless experience that the technology platforms could enable if time permitted. Most health systems have invested significantly in their technology infrastructure and platforms, and in doing so have built a chassis that if fully leveraged could drastically move the needle toward supporting a digitized, streamlined and user-friendly experience for patients, providers and staff.  

The pandemic made planning and evaluation challenging for things like fully employing cloud-based ERP systems to manage a virtual workforce more effectively through self-service;  integrating telehealth more directly into the flow of patient and provider care, supported by a robust EMR to efficiently and effectively service the consumer; or fully [leveraging] the strength of web development and tools to create a more sticky and self-service digital front door and contact/service center. Now health systems are stepping back, in the midst of the pandemic aftermath, and strongly evaluating how to better utilize the technology they have spent years building and supporting to drive a more significant look and feel to the consumer, provider and staff experience.


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