How managing patients' needs early on lowers the cost of care for all: Q&A with WakeMed CIO Dr. Peter Marks

Peter Marks, PhD, vice president and CIO at WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, N.C., discusses the importance of optimism when it comes to different technologies and trends in health IT as well as the benefit to improving community health.

Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How do you promote innovation within your organization?

Dr. Peter Marks: People desire to be innovative. We are natural problem solvers and look for ways to improve using unique and different methods. Given this, it is important to break down silos and give employees the opportunity to integrate different solutions to remedy issues and improve the process. It is also important to celebrate failures — it helps spark the confidence to continue to try, try again.

Q: What is the most exciting thing happening in health IT right now? And what is the most overrated health IT trend?

PM: Population health and patient engagement are some of the most exciting things happening in healthcare right now. There are many studies that show more than 60 percent of a person's health is determined by their environment and individual behaviors. We have done a good job of treating patients at the point of care, but there is still so much to do be done to engage patients in their own health outcomes. Data is key to changing this paradigm. At WakeMed, Brian Klausner, MD, and many other population health leaders have helped shift our focus to better address the social determinants of health and vulnerable patient populations who are struggling with food, housing and other insecurities that may not be considered part of the traditional healthcare treatment space. With this data, we have found strong evidence that if we can help patients in these areas, they can get and stay healthy. Managing patients' needs early in the process creates better outcomes and lowers the cost of care for all.

I am not so bold as to predict trends as overrated. There are many smart people looking at many different technologies and trends — and you never know when something will change the course of healthcare. It is important to be an optimist.

Q: What's one conviction in healthcare that needs to be challenged?

PM: It is important to do the right thing for patients and families and let that be the primary driver of all decisions. Healthcare is very complex with many variables that are important to healthcare systems. However, healthcare is truly a labor of love that draws people who want to serve others with the singular goal of improving the health and well-being of our community. Nothing is as important to healthcare as this principle. We are fortunate at WakeMed that this is our single conviction — patients and families are at the top of all we do.

Q: What is one thing you've learned about your patient population that's really surprised you?

PM: In our deployment of electronic patient engagement tools where patients can work more directly with our health system, we found the patients that most often use this technology are over the age of 60. The conventional wisdom is that the younger population will be the primary consumer of patient engagement technology. They certainly use technology to engage. However, people of all ages want a deeper relationship with their healthcare team, and our population of patients over 60 is a prime consumer of electronic methods to engage with us.

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