'It's about being more agile to meet business needs': Mount Sinai CIO Kristin Myers outlines opportunities in digital transformation

New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System named Kristin Myers executive vice president, CIO and dean of IT in early June.

Ms. Myers has spent the past 16 years with the health system, leading various teams and initiatives including its first EHR implementation. She has a background in establishing the health system's IT program management office and transitioning to ICD-10 coding. Now, at the helm of the IT department, Ms. Myers' focus is on improving the patient experience and aligning with the business office to drive value for patients and clinicians.

Here, Ms. Myers discusses her leadership philosophy and the best opportunities for Mount Sinai to differentiate services in the future.

Question: What do you think have been the biggest learning opportunities in your career that prepared you to take on the CIO role?

Kristin Myers: Early on in my career, I was working as a vendor and then consultant for CGEY. That was such a learning experience because you have to develop a relationship with the client and deliver quality products in a short period of time. The hope is that you exceed the clients' needs. Having that foundation before joining Mount Sinai and the consultant mindset of working hard and developing quality products was helpful.

Secondly, another big experience was building a team from the ground up. In 2004, we as an organization chose Epic as our medical record. I had to build an entire team and recruit team members. Many of the team members I recruited are still with us. Through that process, I made a lot of rookie management mistakes and I think education and coaching really helped me.

I am a huge advocate of coaching. Having self-awareness and emotional intelligence is also key for being a leader. The third major learning experience for me in the last five years was our merger with Continuum Health. We went from a two-hospital system to a seven-hospital system and now we have eight hospitals. That was a learning experience because we had to integrate cultures. We were trying to understand the best platform for each hospital on the IT side, and then change management comes to the forefront in our cultural operations. That's where you really need to over-communicate as a leader.

Even just the recent experience with COVID-19, quite frankly, was a learning process to understand the importance and power of communication and leading people where they are at. Being transparent about the challenges people are having is important. I think the combined experiences have really formed my foundation as a leader and what I will take on in the CIO role.

Q: What is the biggest risk you've taken in your career that paid off?

KM: Back in 2001, I was just beginning at Cap Gemini EY and I was told I could live anywhere in the U.S. I had never been to New York or the United States, but I moved here from Australia for 12 months and thought it would be a great experience to see another part of the world and work at a great consulting firm. Nearly 20 years later, I'm still in New York and with my first client. That risk clearly paid off.

I never anticipated that I would be here this long or ultimately in this position, but you have to be willing to take risk, explore opportunities and see what you like. Especially early on, right out of college, speak to a lot of people, network and be willing to do anything with your role.

Q: What is your vision for Mount Sinai's IT team going forward? What will you need six months from now that you don't have today?

KM: When I think about how I'm going to transform the department, it's about being more agile to meet business needs and becoming more anticipatory of our own business needs. That means we have to be more integrated with operations. We have to optimize our IT operations and be more effective and efficient. We want to enable health systems' digital change, including for patients and families.

The thing I'm most focused on that we don't have but will have in the next six months is an integrated governance process for shared decision-making. We want to make sure that we are completely aligned from a technology perspective with the business strategy.

Q: Where do you see the best opportunity for technology to improve patient care in the future?

KM: Delivering the patient experience so that patients and families strengthen their relationship with the health system is our best opportunity. Technology can be an enabler when there is a holistic experience. From scheduling all the way through to discharge and remote monitoring at home will be an important part of our strategy. The key to all of this is providing a seamless patient experience; one that is easy, clear and from the tech perspective, not fragmented. Pulling all that together is a challenge, but patients will become more empowered in the future and they will expect the kind of consumer experience that they get in retail and other sectors.

We are developing a different patient experience as part of our portal strategy. It's important for us to be differentiated from a competitive standpoint and we want to make the experience very easy for our patient, whether it's the ability to have telehealth or remote monitoring; we are actively working to create the simplified and seamless patient experience.

Q: You are taking this leadership role during a unique time in history. How will you balance the digital transformation while also being mindful of the health system's budget?

KM: The challenge is figuring out how we really optimize and accelerate the retirement of legacy platforms so that the savings can be re-invested in technology. We have to optimize IT operations to be more effective and efficient. We really need to have a cultural shift in terms of looking at return on investment as a key requirement to new programs that seek approval. It's a hard balance, but I think that all health systems are going through this and the IT department is being challenged with how to become more lean and reduce some of the costs with legacy platforms and then reinvest that money into digital transformation.

Q: How do you see the health IT landscape changing? What will it look like in five years?

KM: We are going to see more empowered patients with digital connections to the health system. We are going to see health systems, especially in technology, that are leaner and more nimble. There will be more acceleration to software-as-a-service, the cloud and artificial intelligence in medicine. We have seen even with the COVID pandemic, an acceleration of telehealth and remote monitoring. Health sensors and wearables will continue to expand in the next five years. Academic medical centers will continue to innovate in this landscape and there will continue to be disruption by big technology companies as well as discussions around patient privacy and data protection. Cybersecurity will also be a top priority for health systems, as well as customer relationship management.

When you look at how patients enter the health system and ultimately interact with the system, if they have seen a marketing campaign or gone to the website and they are trying to find a specialist, the customer relationship management platform can take that information for prospective patients and begin to create a 360 degree view on the patient that could result in an appointment scheduled through our website, or directing the patient to call our access center to make the appointment. Having that platform where the agent is able to identify the patient immediately through their telephone number and be able to personalize and shorten the time it takes for the patient to make an appointment is essential. We need to make the digital experience as seamless as possible so it's their first point of entry.

Some patients want the personal interaction, so we have to accommodate that as well. Then, having the customer relationship management platform integrate with the EHR to give a full view will be standard as part of the major health systems' strategies going forward. This is already happening in the payer world and other industries, and we have to catch up in healthcare.

The ability to take our clinical data and use it for research and potentially create new medications and drugs with machine learning is a tremendous opportunity. The challenge with artificial intelligence will be around how the models are put together and having a clear understanding of that. There are so many algorithms that are very niche; how do you put governance around that? That will be an area a lot of organizations will need to grapple with.


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