Hospital IT spend pivots to mission-critical projects: 7 leaders on the key focus for the next 12 months

The coronavirus has introduced new challenges and opportunities for health IT, and digital innovation has accelerated for many health systems.

Healthcare organizations have rapidly pivoted to telehealth and virtual collaboration for non-caregiver teams, and the need for home monitoring as well as increased employee and patient COVID-19 testing will be a top focus for IT and innovation leaders.

Here are seven CIOs and IT leaders outlining how the pandemic will inform their strategy and spend over the next several months.

David Sylvan. President of UH Ventures, the innovation and commercialization arm of University Hospitals (Cleveland): Let me speak to the UH Ventures and Innovation strategy for now, as our broader system's strategy is going to continually be informed and adjusted in response to multiple variables that are still to play out. If this crisis has revealed anything, it’s that rapid innovation is essential, and not just in the areas of therapies or devices, but the manner in which we partner with nontraditional or previously unaffiliated businesses and eco-system partners. Here at UH, we have benefitted greatly from the willingness and enthusiasm of local, regional or even international companies; designers and engineers, and their generous offers of their time; their skills and knowhow, as well as financial resources to assist us in this fight. Moreover, the beneficial outputs of these collaborations are happening at unprecedented speeds.

So, one of the primary strategic pivots for our platform will be a deepening and extending of these collaborations well beyond crisis response. To be candid, there are many industries who have already solved for some of the same challenges we face in healthcare, or at least their parallel instance of the same problems. We've also proven repeatedly over the last two months, that we can get a product or technology into proof-of-concept or pilot activation in a matter of days. The same for clinical trials. These endeavors traditionally took many months to go live but through collaboration and a collective urgency goal, previous hurdles are now being fast-tracked into controlled deployment without circumventing any of the necessary stage-gates.

I'm not implying that this break-neck speed is sustainable nor reasonable, but we do intend to work with our colleagues in various domains to ensure that we never revert back to a pre-COVID pace of operationalizing opportunities.

There are numerous additional strategic adjustments that we're contemplating or designing for, but I'll just add that it's critical for provider platforms to lean into digital enablement when it comes to the delivery of care, with substantial reliance on a robust data and analytics platform to guide; deploy and measure outcomes and impact.

Laishy Williams-Carlson. CIO of Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati): Our overall health system strategy will undoubtedly need to add a focus on rebuilding our ministry after a swift and profound pivot to meet our communities' needs. There will be important changes we need to consider both in our health system and throughout the country. What is the right number of beds needed in our country, where do they need to be, and how will services be provided and more than ever, how do we address healthcare disparities?

[The biggest need for technology resources is] additional mobile devices and new configurations to support constant innovation and new use cases. The partnership of clinical informatics and IT has never been more essential to assure we meet caregivers' needs. I would also like to commend many of our vendors who have stepped up to say 'what do you need' and have partnered with us to get equipment and assist us in building out solutions.

Randy Davis. Vice President and CIO of CGH Medical Center (Sterling, Ill.): Well this is a broad [topic] and causes me to jump outside my lane a bit. My observations:

1. I've heard from many patients they are discovering the way they defined their "acute" need for healthcare in the past may need recalibrated. In other words, COVID-19 has chased most other disease states away, and people are learning in many cases that has left them no worse for the wear.

2. The post-event analysis I believe will be flowing with compliments for nearly all caregivers, and not nearly as complimentary to "hospital systems." Why? We have gone along like sheep with the just-in-time delivery protocol, and there has been a price to pay for this. I believe systems will create a list of must-have items and stock more appropriately. It's not a crazy long list, for a community hospital it may be only 20-30 items. It's difficult to reason away how quickly supplies were depleted. I realize the excuses that will be offered, but if systems will be honest, I think they'll admit treating a hospital like a manufacturer insofar as deliveries are concerned didn't work out very well.

3. The need for access to records has now been 100 percent verified. Commonwell and Carequality are an absolute requirement. It's ridiculous for any physician to not have access to your records if they need it.

4. Home monitoring will take off. Patients not wishing to sit in waiting rooms with others will push the technology forward, and they should. Prices will fall for these devices. Patients really won't have a good reason to waste all this time to/from a physician's office for the vast majority of what they need to be seen for. Hospitals will lose facility fees under provider based billing for remote visits. Watch closely for their reactions.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President and CIO of Seattle Children's: The pandemic has resulted in a shift in IT strategy: better prioritization and focus on mission critical projects only; reduction in contractor resources; restructuring of teams; cost improvement programs; hybrid outsourcing more managed services; as well as a longer term focus on how to sustain supporting a remote worker force.

COVID-19 is going to have a long-term effect on how healthcare organizations look at their costs; how they shift delivery of care away from medical centers; and how they pivot to virtual moving forward. Healthcare systems must reevaluate all aspects of how they deliver care and make sustainable plans to put cost-improvement programs into place throughout all clinical and nonclinical areas. Healthcare systems should plan to reduce back office costs such as IT, human resources, revenue cycle and facilities.

Michelle Stansbury. Vice President of Innovation at Houston Methodist: Our innovation initiatives really helped prepare us for taking care of our patients. We had already started providing telehealth visits as well as implemented virtual ICU in our main hospital. We quickly were able to train several hundred of our clinicians to provide virtual care, and we are now planning to expand our virtual ICU plans across our health system. Our virtual visits averaged around 50 per day and they are now averaging over 2,000 per day. Virtual care is here to stay, and we are working to expand our capabilities.

Jeffrey Sturman. CIO of Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.): I could see a much higher degree and understanding as to why telehealth should be gaining more adoptions and therefore more resources are put to this, while maybe taking away from other areas. We already have a focus on moving to more mobile based solutions, and I think we will see this prioritized with even further significance. There will be new innovative communication solutions and implementation of bots that were viewed as nice to have and now really being critical to operations. Undoubtedly, we will all be looking at new solutions and reprioritizing our efforts over the next 18 months.

Tom Andriola. Vice Chancellor of IT and Data at UC Irvine (Calif.): We're all pivoting to deal with the pandemic. It means changing priorities, creating new capabilities, while scaling the ability for the organization to operate virtually wherever it can. It's a bit early to tell how long we'll be in this reactive mode before we start to see some level of predictability and really assess what we can keep moving and what may need to sit of the shelf for a while. However, I will add that CIOs should think about the digital capabilities being deployed during this crisis, many of which have probably been in process for a few years but experiencing the usual organizational resistance to change. I think a key question for CIOs should be, "How can we freeze the most important aspects of digital transformation into the operating model as part of the 'new normal.'"

Tom Barnett. CIO of University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center: I think everyone in healthcare right now will be trying to navigate what this impact will have on all of us. What it will likely mean to us for the next 12 months is that we will want to redouble our focus on partnering with our operational leaders to achieve operational efficiencies wherever the opportunities exist. I can also see this pairing nicely with a more narrowly focused analytics strategy to produce the information and intelligence to help us all locate additional cost or workflow efficiency opportunities and make sure that we are working with as much knowledge as possible. We want to make sure that we are wringing every bit of value out of our current systems and operations that we can. We will work with our system leadership to see what long-term strategic priorities can gain additional resources as the country slowly gets back to normal.

More articles on health IT:
Cleveland Clinic shares predictive model to help hospitals plan for COVID-19: 4 things to know
What will the IT job market look like after the pandemic?
University Hospitals' innovation accelerated during the pandemic; here's what is coming next

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