'Don't let shiny object syndrome prevail': Spectrum Health's CIO shares how to keep IT strategy on track during pandemic

Jackie Drees -

Hospitals' IT strategies must change just as quickly in response to the rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jason Joseph, CIO at Spectrum Health.

As CIO, Mr. Joseph oversees strategic and operational information systems, cybersecurity and emergency preparedness at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based health system. Now, facing a global pandemic, Mr. Joseph said these are the times when IT strategy is put to the test, and he credits Spectrum Health's IT incident management process as a strong supporting element of the health system's overall COVID-19 response.  

"We have found this to be critical for communication and decision-making across all parts of the organization," Mr. Joseph told Becker's Hospital Review. "It has enabled us to move three years of change management work in three weeks."

Here, Mr. Joseph discusses Spectrum Health's IT efforts during the pandemic as well as how the health system plans to shift its focus post COVID-19.   

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

Question: What are your IT team's top three priorities during the coronavirus pandemic?

Jason Joseph: Our team has three top priorities. The first is direct support for COVID-19 preparedness and support; there are many things in this category, including screening tools, virtual and digital health, remote working arrangements, new builds in Epic, patient communications, etc. Next is advancement of virtual and digital capabilities in nearly all categories and third is planning and adjusting our strategy and portfolio of work due to the COVID-19 impacts, which will be long term.

Q: Do you have any tips or lessons learned for other CIOs across the country?

JJ: Things are moving fast, what may be a priority this week isn't as relevant next week.  Also, these are the times when IT strategy is tested. Trying to get solutions out or advanced in record time doesn't work if you don't have the components in place to do it.  Consider the following questions: How's your EMR strategy – is it fragmented or integrated? What about virtual care, do you have a platform or are you cobbling it together? Do you have clinical integration so that you can make quick decisions and implement new processes, or is this a piecemeal approach? If that's not already there, it's going to be a tougher journey.

Also, this tends to bring out the true character of your IT teams and others. Stay the course and focus on value – don't let the shiny object syndrome prevail when you need to make real impactful progress. Finally, I'd say if you don't already have a strong incident management process, ensure you have one in place. We have found this to be critical for communication and decision-making across all parts of the organization. It has enabled us to move three years of change management work in three weeks, but we know there will be much more to do.

Q: How are you gathering and managing data on patients with COVID-19?

JJ: We are currently using Epic as our foundation for clinical testing and results but also have a robust dashboard that we have built with data integration from multiple systems and sources. The dashboard uses Tableau software with an SQL back-end. We are tracking many critical measures including staffing, supplies, testing and ventilators, and watching not only our predictive models but also our various leading indicators. It hasn't been as elegant as we would have liked, but we're there now, and it's really turned into an agile work team with multiple analytics disciplines focused on the most critical needs and prioritizing daily.

Q: How will the coronavirus pandemic affect your IT and innovation strategy and focus over the next 18 months?

JJ: While some things have been accelerated such as virtual working and virtual care, other things are being challenges, such as our large enterprise resource planning implementation and some post-merger integration work. We are resetting and re-factoring our strategy and portfolios in the coming weeks. We have new opportunities to work differently that have been accelerated and will continue to advance. We also have some activities that will become less important, and we need to shift priorities accordingly. My sense is we will become laser-focused on execution, moving to a new model of care and managing through the total cost of delivering care more aggressively.  The world has changed overnight, and we need to adjust our course accordingly.

In terms of innovation strategy, we will still continue to look for those opportunities to innovate and advance our capabilities. I think we may be a little more focused in terms of the immediate need and impact of our efforts.

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