Leading health system IT teams during the coronavirus pandemic: Key insights from UC Irvine's Tom Andriola

Tom Andriola, vice chancellor of information technology and data at UC Irvine (Calif.), sees planning for the expanded services during the coronavirus pandemic as one of the top priorities for his IT team in the foreseeable future.

Health systems in the hardest hit areas, including California and Washington, are in a race against time to expand capacity. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the system needs 110,000 hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients and issued an emergency order for hospitals to increase capacity by 50 percent. California is also expanding bed capacity by leasing two hospitals owned by Verily Healthy System in El Segundo, Calif., leasing them with $30 million in emergency funding.

Here, Mr. Andriola outlines how his team is supporting the expansion of services and prioritizing new capabilities for clinicians treating COVID-19 patients.

Question: What are your IT team's top three priorities during the coronavirus pandemic?

Tom Andriola: Our top priorities are planning for the expansion and resiliency of services during the pandemic; keeping our employees safe; contributing our deep clinical expertise toward research and clinical trials around the virus.

Q: How will the coronavirus pandemic affect your IT and innovation strategy and focus over the next 18 months?

TA:We're all pivoting to deal with the pandemic. It means changing priorities, creating new capabilities, while scaling the ability for the organization to operate virtually wherever it can. It's a bit early to tell how long we'll be in this reactive mode before we start to see some level of predictability and really assess what we can keep moving and what may need to sit of the shelf for a while. However, I will add that CIOs should think about the digital capabilities being deployed during this crisis, many of which have probably been in process for a few years but experiencing the usual organizational resistance to change. I think a key question for CIOs should be, "How can we freeze the most important aspects of digital transformation into the operating model as part of the 'new normal.'"

Q: How do you communicate and motivate your team at this time? What has changed and what is staying the same?

TA: I think people need to have access to as much information as possible in times like these. People tend to simplify things down to keep them manageable as well as to help them deal with the complexity and uncertainty. Giving people lots of opportunity to hear information, ask questions and help connect the dots across the organization is always important as a leader. What's different right now is these two things; first, how rapidly the situation might change because of new numbers, a government decision, or the general uncertainty around COVID-19. We're literally dealing with a dramatically changing environment every day, which makes planning extremely difficult. Second, it's important to help people with the challenge of getting credible information. They look to leadership and inherently trust that the information they're getting from us is both timely and accurate. We can't lose sight of that. So basically, it means doubling down on information sharing and creating opportunities for conversation and learning.

Q: Do you have any tips or lessons learned for other CIOs across the country?

TA: When I see and speak with people what is always mentioned is how well groups have come together and rallied around the need to be ready for the pandemic and the impact on people. I've been impressed with how much agility we've shown when we've needed to. In terms of lessons learned, I would say the biggest one for me is the seismic impact this is having on people, not just upending their work, but having kids home from school, being confined to their homes, short and long term financial stresses. I could keep going, but we're all feeling it. I've tried to make sure every conversation I have I check in with how the person is doing, ask about the family, parents and how they're holding up with all the stress and change.

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