3 major challenges for health IT in 2021 from Harvard Medical Faculty CEO Dr. Alexa Kimball

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Alexa Kimball, MD, CEO of Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, oversaw the rapid deployment of telehealth and data analytics during the pandemic. Now her team is focused on refining the digital patient experience and predictive analytics.

During an interview on the Becker’s Healthcare Podcast, Dr. Kimball talked about the big challenges in IT and expectations for artificial intelligence in 2021 and beyond.

Click here to download the full episode and subscribe to the Becker’s Healthcare Podcast.

Note: responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What do you think will be your biggest challenge in the next year?

Dr. Alexa Kimball: My team is small but nimble. They just went through a number of important implementations for us. The first thing we have to do is get telehealth right. The pandemic has taught us the limiting factor in major acceptance for telehealth was the regulatory and financial environment, not the technology. That said, the technology still needs to improve. There have been connectivity issues and issues around how to bring in interpreters, medical students and family members. How do we make it logistically more straightforward for people? Those are the key things our teams are working on right now. I will say, parenthetically, we are also really worried about whether the financial reimbursement for some telehealth will decline, especially for telephone visits, especially because in some cases the underserved populations seem better served by telephone than video. That is one of the big things we are worried about.

Our IT teams are also worried about working from home. We have moved administrative staff to remote work, and we have also moved some physicians to work from home. They are trying to do telemedicine remotely, and in some cases research from home as well. Every employer is thinking about when to bring people back and how and what do we need to do that. We are thinking about how to best support people in those environments.

The third major issue is the patient experience. We had let 1,000 [ideas] bloom as we attempted to provide care, new resources and options for people, but it is still relatively fragmented from the patient's standpoint. We need to figure out how to consolidate care delivery in a more coordinated and comprehensive way. That is everything from billing statements to scheduling appointments and how is telehealth displayed. Those are long-term goals, but we are thinking about them as we update our platforms.

Q: What do you expect from artificial intelligence in healthcare over the next one to five years?

AK: I'm a little bit of a contrarian around artificial intelligence, and we'll see if history proves me right. Like some other things we've seen historically, like pharmacogenomics, AI and the management of big data and predictive data has been absolutely fascinating in the ways it can help us. But the first use case people reach for at times is around diagnosis, and that is actually what AI is not as well suited for on a daily basis. When AI looks through a number of factors and says 'here's the things you should consider for your diagnosis,' common things are still common. Most of the time, in my experience, AI tells you something you already know. It reinforces thinking about the common things in some ways without expanding your mind to consider things that could be different or unusual. It's sort of a confirmation bias.

Where I think it is incredibly powerful and potentially helpful is around prediction of trends. Which way are things going, and how do we prepare and manage them? There is still a limitation, so if you don't have interventions to change that pattern, there isn't much you can do. Tracking the pandemic has been a great example. If we can see things early, whether it's cellphone data or other movements helping us predict what might happen next, we can be better prepared to manage it.

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