How Intermountain Healthcare's new CIO plans to bolster transformation efforts, lead IT team through pandemic

As Intermountain Healthcare's new CIO, Ryan Smith is focused on securing a reputation for his IT team over the next year as an integral player that helps drive innovation and fiscal stewardship, among other efforts, across the Salt Lake City-based health system.

Mr. Smith, who most recently served as senior vice president of data analytics technology and services provider Health Catalyst, will become CIO of Intermountain Healthcare, effective June 29. He will replace Marc Probst, who is retiring.

Mr. Smith previously worked for Intermountain Healthcare for 19 years in IT leadership roles. His return to the health system comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, which Mr. Smith told Becker's Hospital Review presents a challenge getting "up to speed" with the enterprise and position.

Here, Mr. Smith discusses his IT priorities for the next year and how he plans to engage team members and lead projects during the pandemic.

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

Question: How is Intermountain Healthcare using tech to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic? How do you plan to continue innovation efforts ahead of a potential second wave?  

Ryan Smith: The innovative use of technology has been pervasive in Intermountain's response to COVID-19. As just a few examples, the Intermountain Connect Care telehealth platform, as well as other consumer and enterprise video conferencing tools, have been leveraged to support caregivers working from home and for patients to virtually present for their conditions. Combined, these technologies have enabled an 85 times increase in video visits compared to pre-pandemic video visit levels. We also launched an AI-based chatbot to help people assess their risk of contracting the virus and provide guidance around appropriate actions to take. Other examples include newly developed EHR workflows and advanced decision support to enable highly scalable and efficient testing processes, including curbside and mobile testing capabilities. As you might imagine, there's also been a heavy dependence on leveraging data and analytics to support all aspects of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. 

Keeping our IT organization highly aligned with Intermountain's daily huddles and virtual COVID-19 Hospital Incident Command will be key to understanding areas where our teams can assist in innovating new solutions. 

Q: What are your top concerns heading into your first month on the job as CIO? 

RS: Getting up to speed during this incredibly dynamic time will undoubtedly be a challenge. Typically, you would expect to spend much of your first 90 days meeting in person with leaders all across the enterprise, including with your own teams, to help inform your understanding of key priorities, what's working well and where improvements are needed. Many of those initial meetings will now take place using web and video conferencing solutions, which will still allow for meaningful discussions.

The focus on COVID-19 response and recovery will necessarily force accelerated time frames for assessing our operations and ensuring our teams are positioned for the future. Transformation is happening so rapidly right now across our industry and it is vital that our IT organization is well positioned to be a full partner.

Q: What do you plan or hope to accomplish during your first year as CIO? 

RS: I hope to finish my first 12 months with the IT team being viewed as an integral team player that has significantly contributed to Intermountain's key strategies and goals. We'll be placing focus around business-driven governance, transparency, customer experience, innovation, fiscal stewardship, accountability and delivering meaningful results.

Q: How do you plan to engage teams and lead IT efforts during this unprecedented time? 

RS: An essential part of engagement is making sure there is a clear vision and easy-to-understand objectives the team can rally around. I'm excited to do a lot of skip level rounding with my front-line leaders, middle management and staff to make sure everyone is clear on what needs to be accomplished. We'll focus on individual and team level accountability for delivering results by empowering leaders and senior staff to own the outcomes.

Q: From a health IT perspective, what surprised you or what lessons have you learned from the pandemic? 

RS: It's been fascinating to watch how rapidly key technology and digital solutions have been implemented to address massive changes in healthcare over the past several months. This has ranged from rapidly adding thousands of new clinician and non-clinician workforce members to remote working infrastructure, to huge increases in virtual visits and telehealth, to implementing all kinds of new clinical workflows and analytics supporting COVID-19 efforts. One of the lessons I've learned is just how responsive teams can be when an urgent need arises and the whole company aligns around priorities.

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