Cleveland Clinic CIO Matthew Kull on how coronavirus disrupted operations for the better

Matthew Kull began as CIO of Cleveland Clinic in March, and he brought with him experience leading IT strategies.

Before taking the permanent post in Cleveland, he was interim CIO for about four months. Before that, he was  associate CIO of Cleveland Clinic's IT division, and he's a former senior vice president and CIO of Dallas-based Parkland Health & Hospital System. Other leadership experience includes stints at AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

Mr. Kull told Becker's Hospital Review he is excited about his new role during the COVID-19 pandemic because of increased adoption of digital technologies. He shared his goals for his first year in his role, discussed his top concerns and offered some advice for other hospital CIOs.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has you most excited about your new role as CIO of Cleveland Clinic?

Matthew Kull: Assuming this new role at  Cleveland Clinic in the midst of the pandemic, where we were essentially fast forwarded several years when it comes to the adoption of digital and virtual technologies, which might be the only silver lining with COVID-19. It's very exciting to come at a time when so much adoption of new technologies occurred so quickly and with the adaptation of even the way we practice medicine to more of a distance or virtual platform is certainly incredible to walk into. It creates a lot of opportunity, but it also it creates a lot of potential for disruption. And being able to potentially utilize some of that disruption to further Cleveland Clinic's mission is certainly exciting.

Q: What are your goals for the first year on the job? 

MK: It was immediately apparent that resiliency was going to be critically important and the ability to scale very quickly. In the first year I plan to expand our hybrid cloud environments to allow us to meet new demands quickly and efficiently, especially during a pandemic when so many people are relying on remote and virtualized technology.

We also are partnering more closely with physicians across the organization to help drive the adoption of virtual technologies as we start to look to in-home monitoring of patients or those who are managing chronic diseases. How can we get closer to those patients without the burden of having to arrive to the hospital for regularly scheduled checkups?

If we can make headway in those areas in my first year, I believe we are going to be setting ourselves up for what will become the standard of care across the nation.

Q: From an IT perspective, what are your top concerns heading into the next month and potential second wave of COVID-19? 

MK: We have been fortunate in Ohio. Our governor took early action around social distancing and isolation, so we had better outcomes here than much of the country. We are very conservative in reopening. I think we are well-positioned in Ohio. I do have concerns about the future waves for our Florida hospitals. We certainly are seeing an uptick in the news about the rates of new COVID infections in Florida. I think as we prepare for that, ensuring we have clinical equipment, devices, ventilators ready to go to reach the rest of our family in Florida will be critical. Our supply chain team has implemented technologies to predict and forecast equipment and supply needs based on infection trends.

Q: How is Cleveland Clinic using tech to navigate the pandemic?

MK: One of the missions and a large part of our strategic plan is to be able to provide care regardless of where our patients live in the world. As we expand into the United Kingdom and continue our service in Abu Dhabi as well as Canada and as we start to reach into China, one of the things we understand as an organization is we have a responsibility to patients across the globe. And we want to become portable and convenient in a way that allows people to move throughout the world and still have access to Cleveland Clinic's top level of care. With this virtual adoption our ability to reach more patients and reach patients where they are and how they want to be connected with their care teams is going to be greatly enhanced.

Q: If you could pass along a piece of advice to other hospital CIOs, what would it be?

MK: Embracing change is going to be critical for everyone. The same old way of doing things is probably not going to be the path forward. The adoption of digital technologies across healthcare accelerated four or five years as a result of COVID, and we're not going back. I think it would be a significant mistake for CIOs and other executive team members to think that we're going to go back to the old normal, because those days are gone. We have to look at normal as what's coming, and we have to look at normal in a way that is going to help us reach more patients the way they are going to want to be connected with. I suspect we're going to see administrative changes across government driving change to the political and commercial landscape throughout healthcare which are likely to have a considerable impact in the next one or five years. If reimbursement around virtual care stays where it's at or becomes equal with onsite visits digital health will prevail. It's not going to be a square footage and buildings game anymore to serve more lives. It's really important we all continue to look forward because as an industry, and especially health IT, we're forever changed.

 

More articles on health IT:
Cerner to cut 100 positions
Apple to launch new COVID-19 features for watch
'It's about being more agile to meet business needs': Mount Sinai CIO Kristin Myers outlines opportunities in digital transformation

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