'I rarely start a conversation focused on technology': How CommonSpirit's Suja Chandrasekaran approaches new tech investment


Digital technology and innovation have become more important than ever for large health systems as well as small community hospitals to support their response to COVID-19.

Many organizations are now prioritizing data analytics and virtual health efforts and are boosting the digital front door for patients. At the Becker's Healthcare Health IT + Revenue Cycle Management Virtual Event on July 24, CommonSpirit Health Chief Information and Digital Officer Suja Chandrasekaran discussed lessons learned over the past few months and how the health system is preparing for the future.

Here is an excerpt from the session, lightly edited for clarity. Click here to view the entire conversation on demand.

Question: How have you approached some of the key challenges with virtual care, remote work, data gathering and communication over the past few months? What lessons have you learned and what will you need next?

Suja Chandrasekaran: I see working the digital workspace goes beyond email and video conferencing. We are in the process of deploying an employee return-to-work app, which has got a fairly robust set of capabilities around how many people are in the building and who is all on a particular floor as well as which vendors are coming in. We can trace exposure as well as do contact tracing and also use that to send messages and communicate with 150,000 people very quickly.

We are also in the process of building and employing a much more robust content collaboration and information sharing internal social network. So there's a whole robust digital workplace, a digital roadmap, for our internal workplace that changes the way we think and work but also supports a different culture. It's not just about the tool but it's a different mindset and way of thinking. We have to work differently.

Q: You've mentioned in the past that health systems embracing patient-centric technology are most likely to win in the future. What are the most urgent technologies that CommonSpirit is focused on today to deliver a great patient experience?

SC: I rarely start a conversation focused on technology. So I would start it from the user-centric mindset. We have broken in and created a road map around about 14 different products. For example, the integrated digital front door is a product; certain scheduling functions are a product; digital content is a product. So we have around 14 of those products and it's a very agile feature function-based scaling game on each of the products and underneath the product is a very robust digital health platform. The platform is a combination of data and user experiences and AI-infused capabilities, or process automation, that is done through our robotics automation or in some cases it's blockchain-based. There is a confluence of multiple technologies that brings it together.

What we really put emphasis on is the outward-looking and patient-looking capabilities. That is then lit up based on underlying technologies. But it's rarely just one technology that pops out or creates, it's anything that is built and designed with the user centricity in mind and keeps up with the maturation of the technology. Every technology is not the same. I've done artificial intelligence and machine learning for years. I remember the early days when there were hardly any libraries at all and you had to code everything. Now there are much more robust libraries available and much more robust integrated data and AI platforms, and every technology goes through its own maturation.

Q: What is the system's strategy for investing in digital technology today, especially considering the financial impact of the pandemic on the system?

SC: I would use the word omni-channel, which is very similar to the approach of retailers. We order a product and it comes in, maybe you order a few different sizes. You keep one and you return one, right? So think of a journey where you have a symptom, you Google it, and as part of that symptom checker you find the clinic online and take a virtual visit. The doctor orders you a test kit and your kit is sent to your home. You do a swab and a mobile diagnostics unit comes and takes your specimen, and then the results are sent to you. You can then meet with your physician to discuss results.

You can keep stitching the journey together, which is a combination of digital experiences as well as physical experiences, and in the end you have your prescription ordered and it's sent directly to you in a frictionless journey, and there are even frictionless payments. You can make ratings and reviews similar to the way we do as consumers and then the health system can measure patient satisfaction and make it transparent; that is enabled through technologies.

All of this is not going to be built in a day. It takes time; one feature at a time. It's about making consistent progress and continuous improvement with a clear mission. We have a clear vision that grounds us and centers us.


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