How Intermountain is tackling clinical data entry burden: CIO Marc Probst talks innovation, tech investments

Marc Probst brings nearly 30 years of IT and healthcare services experience to his role as vice president and CIO at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City.

As CIO, a position he has held since 2003, Mr. Probst has a special interest in systems design and implementation, strategic planning, system consolidation and project management.

Previously, he served as a member of the Federal Health Information Technology Policy Committee, which was established by Congress to help develop health IT policy for the U.S. government, and as a partner at both Deloitte Consulting and Ernst & Young.

Here, Mr. Probst discusses healthcare's opportunity to innovate within the consumer and data entry spaces as well as Intermountain's initiatives and partnerships to embrace new technology.

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

Question: Where do you see the biggest need for innovation to improve the healthcare industry in the future?

Marc Probst: Definitely in the consumer space as well as improving access to care and information about care. Healthcare organizations must integrate lots of data sources to make this intuitive and useful to our consumers/patients, their families and care givers.

The other need for innovation revolves around removing the clinician from doing data entry. Technologies such as natural language processing, image capture and voice capture allow clinicians to do their jobs without touching the computer. I think we're really close to having this technology as part of everyday use in clinical settings, and it will revolutionize the care giving process, or the needs we've imposed upon our caregivers around the use of technology.

Q: What initiatives has Intermountain implemented to alleviate the data entry burden?

MP: We have and continue to partner with companies like Microsoft and Nuance at a research level on voice capture. We've also partnered with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health on something called computer vision, which is essentially teaching the computer how to see. With the combination of voice and sight with the computer, such as it being able to understand movement and actions, my hypothesis is that aligning those two things will help us achieve an amazingly high level of accuracy and usefulness for capturing and documenting clinical encounters.

Q: What is your No. 1 dealbreaker when it comes to evaluating vendor partnerships?

MP: A lack of trust. This can come in many forms but anything in that space of dishonesty or inaccuracy is going to be an immediate deal breaker. We need to have the ability to trust the vendor's technology and their commitment to us as an organization.

There are a lot of organizations with good technical skills development and interesting technologies out there, and in almost any industry there are competitors in that space. Being able to trust one another; we can trust a partnering vendor to be honest when they have a problem or even be honest when they have a solution, we will go a long way together.

Q: How does Intermountain monitor ROI on health IT investments?

MP: We have a formal process for piloting the solutions we plan to do, and part of that process is understanding what the return, whether it be financial or improvement in clinical process and quality, will be. It's through that more in-depth understanding that we gain or create ROI. While there are formulas around financial ROI and what our expectations pre- and post-implementation will be, those are more of a hypothesis whereas a pilot delivers fact-based ROI or return on energy and time that go into dealing with a new product.

Q: Hospitals now have the potential to leverage various types of data – clinical, financial, social determinants of health, etc. From an ethical standpoint, how does Intermountain approach using patient data to develop a better understanding of patient populations?

MP: The ethics come in multiple levels, but at a high level we believe we have a sacred responsibility to protect the data of our patients, their families and encounters. We are very cautious using patient data even in the areas of research and advancing our capabilities. This doesn't mean we wouldn’t ever do it do it; however, we're very cautious.  Even in instances when using de-identified patient data we understand that it is not completely under our control. No de-identification is perfect, so we must be very careful.

The other side of the ethical argument is we need to be doing everything we can to improve the quality of care that we provide and enhance the value of that care to lower costs. I think it would be unethical to say we wouldn't get involved with someone that can help do that. We would, and we just need to continue to do it in a way that is protecting that patient's data and not using it in inappropriate ways.

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