Making health IT more resilient: 3 questions with Fairview CIO Sameer Badlani

The strategic vision cycle has shortened significantly during the pandemic, said Minneapolis-based Fairview CIO Sameer Badlani, but he still sees great opportunity for digital transformation and more equitable healthcare delivery.

During an interview for the Becker’s Healthcare Podcast, Mr. Badlani discussed how his goal-setting process has changed due to COVID-19 and big opportunities for investment in the future. Click here to download the full episode and subscribe to the Becker’s Healthcare Podcast.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How has the pandemic affected your short- and long-term goals?

Sameer Badlani: One thing COVID-19 has done is made us a little more reluctant to set really long-term goals. When I started my career 15 to 20 years ago, having five-year plans was the thing. Then about five years ago we all realized that, not just in the technology space that by nature changes very fast, but also in the healthcare space that was evolving at a fast clip,five years was too much to plan around and required a lot of guesswork. I, like many others, started doing three-year planning. What COVID has taught us is that we need to focus on the next six months in the short term, and then next 18 months as the long-term window, and make solid plans around that.

There is recognition that our planning must be more crisp and more precise, focusing on a shorter duration is the better way to manage at this point in time.

Q: What are the essential IT investments you plan to make in the next year?

SB: The biggest thing that comes to mind is that IT itself has to become more resilient and then enhance the resiliency of the organization for business continuity, stability and competitiveness in the market. With that in mind, the major areas where we will continue to make investments and keep a strong focus are cybersecurity, stabilization and improvement of our infrastructure, and that translates into a faster transition to the cloud infrastructure and digital transformation.

There are other things I could speak of, like app rationalization or focusing on more areas where we need to have more capabilities, but the three major domains given where we are and what we should be focusing on regardless of COVID are security, stability and digital transformation.

Q: What are you most excited about for the future?

SB: I'm really excited about the digital transformation that we have started working on. It materially changes how we define access, how patients receive guidance and care for their wellness, and that is not just video-based telemedicine. It starts from our digital front door, where we offer asynchronous care so patients can interact with either a chatbot, or put in their symptoms and someone later on responds for traditional telemedicine. Subsequently, there are app-based follow-ups for patients, and we can keep an eye on them, guide them, reassure them and provide access to additional care without using brick and mortar or face-to-face time.

The way we deliver all that care is amazing, but we need to get better. The caution we always express is that this digital way of delivering care opens up another avenue where you can create equity and access issues for people who are already disadvantaged. It's really important for individuals in roles like mine and organizations like ours to take the extra time and effort to make sure any digital assets we are putting out there serve more people than they would if we were not taking that precaution. Lack of internet access and lack of devices and inability to leverage technology all create another front where we may reduce access to care for a certain group of people.

We have to go beyond thinking of equity in healthcare just as access. I think outcomes are also something we need to think about. Which community has better outcomes than another, and why is that the case? Digital transformation of how we deliver care has the ability to solve for that, but if unattended it also can cause more challenges. We are keeping a close eye on that; it is part of our conversation, and we want to do a better job as a community healthcare provider and an academic healthcare organization for the state of Minnesota.

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