Which digital health tools helped hospitals weather the pandemic? 4 CIOs discuss

Tools that facilitated remote work and telehealth were rapidly adopted by hospitals and health systems amid the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly became integral to the success of their COVID-19 responses.

Below, four chief information officers from hospitals and health systems across the country discuss the digital health tools they couldn't have made it through the pandemic without.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Michael Restuccia. Senior Vice President and CIO for Corporate Information Services at Penn Medicine (Philadelphia). Healthcare organizations leveraged their vendor relationships as well as internal software development capabilities to develop digital health tools to weather the pandemic. From a vendor perspective, organizations rapidly selected and adopted a telemedicine partner in order to facilitate remote patient care while clinics and other healthcare facilities were closed.  

As the reopening of these healthcare facilities took place, telemedicine has continued as a meaningful component of the new normal of healthcare delivery. In addition to vendor-provided solutions, healthcare organizations have turned to their software development teams to provide customized solutions such as the prioritization of surgical cases to comply with statewide reopening guidelines, verification of employee and patient visitor health before entering a healthcare facility, remote monitoring of COVID-19 patients and capacity/volume dashboards to guide leadership decisions throughout the pandemic.  

In all instances, the collaboration between information services and associated operational leaders continued to be the "secret sauce" to rapidly and effectively introduce these digital tools to combat the pandemic.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President and CIO at Seattle Children's. To survive the pandemic, Seattle Children's has used key digital tools in the categories of video/voice collaboration and productivity. For us, specifically, these were Microsoft Office 365 and a combination of Microsoft Teams, WebEx and Zoom to support remote working for 4,000 people; team collaboration for 13,000 people; 2,100 virtual meetings a day and 15,000 telehealth visits per week.

Keith Perry. Senior Vice President and CIO at Carilion Clinic (Roanoke, Va.). There were a couple of tools that were instrumental in our ability to continue to provide care to our patients safely and to support ongoing operations. Our digital health platform was critical in facilitating virtual visits and remote care without requiring patients to visit one of our facilities. We also utilized the platform to help triage and assess potential COVID patients allowing us to better manage our limited supply of personal protective equipment. We even utilized the tool to connect isolated patients with their families and loved ones during a time when visitation was restricted in our hospitals.

Concurrently, we shifted thousands of employees to a virtual/remote work setting. Our video conferencing platform allowed our teams to continue their collaborative work safely from their home or other remote work location. Employees continue to talk about the benefits of these tools and how important they are in the new healthcare landscape.

Jim Albin. Chief Information Officer at ThedaCare (Appleton, Wis.). A digital health tool that has helped ThedaCare throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is the Return to Work Solution through Ripple by ThedaCare. It helps employers get their teams back together safely during the pandemic. The solution is the latest adaptation of the configurable b.well Connected Health platform. ThedaCare introduced the full b.well platform, named “Ripple”, to our 7,000 team members and the community in summer 2020.

Team members use the Return to Work Solution to check in daily, completing a simple survey to assess their COVID-19 symptoms, exposure, and risk of infection, and then receive personalized recommendations based on their responses. The solution includes an administrative dashboard to help employers identify trends and provide insights to better manage the needs of their team members. It is simple and convenient. The digital solution helps manage risk, complies with government regulations and reduces the burden on internal human resources teams — all while addressing employees' health needs and protecting their privacy. This tool creates more efficiency for our team to manage health and wellness in real-time while protecting the safety of our communities.

A second digital health tool that provided access to care was the use of Epic’s MyChart. During the initial phases of vaccine eligibility and distribution in Wisconsin, MyChart allowed ThedaCare to notify and schedule those in the 1A group. Patients could access schedules at various ThedaCare locations, and make their appointment with ease in the system. Using MyChart (a.k.a. MyThedaCare) automatically integrated vaccine information in the patient’s medical record and managed the second inoculation. As the state opened up additional groups that were eligible to receive the vaccine, MyChart provided a secure way to communicate with patients, providing the most current vaccine information.


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