More than just IT: Novant Health's Angela Yochem oversees digital health, innovation

Just as healthcare has gone far beyond the four walls of a hospital room or physician's office, health technology has evolved long past the workings of the IT department. Angela Yochem's role with Novant Health summarizes that shift quite nicely.

Ms. Yochem is the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based health system's executive vice president and chief transformation and digital officer.

She oversees not only the traditional IT functions for Novant Health but also its digital health and data science operations, and she is the general manager and COO of its innovation arm, Novant Health Enterprises.

Her position shows how health systems are responding to the disruptions in the industry from players like Amazon and CVS and how the traditional CIO role is evolving to a more encompassing technology and strategic position.

"Tech execs are well-qualified to weigh in on all sorts of business issues because their base responsibilities are to automate and enable every single business process in a company," she told Becker's. "And since most tech execs have strong logical facility and typically extraordinarily creative minds, they tend to prove themselves useful in all sorts of problem-solving and identification of new opportunities."

Ms. Yochem brings an outsider's eye to the role, having previously served as a CIO at Rent-A-Center, logistics company BDP International and Dell; as chief technology officer of AstraZeneca; and in IT positions in the banking industry.

She said healthcare has some unique challenges — though no more than many other heavily regulated industries — but that its "insular" nature is starting to go away as hospitals and health systems hire more executives from outside the sector, like herself.

"The lines between the industries themselves are very, very blurry, right?" she said. "We in healthcare are competing not just with other members of the traditional healthcare ecosystem. We're competing with retailers. We're competing with technology companies."

She said her job, like a tech leader in any field, is to "make it as easy as possible for a customer to consume the services we provide or to buy a product from us" and to "make it as easy as possible to pay for that service." That includes digital scheduling, virtual appointments and more automation for providers.

She envisions the future of digital health as "one, single continuum of care" — including real-time engagement with wellness coaches, dieticians and behavioral health specialists. The patient might follow a customized exercise routine virtually, or have clinicians visit them at home. The idea is to keep patients well, healthy and at home.

"We have to shift the mindset of our customer base so that their engagement with us is less transactional and more lifestyle," Ms. Yochem said. Novant Health recently hired a patient engagement executive to help with that.

The problem, she said, is that it's hard to get reimbursement for a lot of these services, so new models — direct pay, partnerships with other entities — are needed. "It's a moving target," she said. "But there's certainly very little that couldn't be done from a technical or operational perspective. It's really what is viable over time financially."

In the future, Ms. Yochem sees more of a focus on personalized and predictive medicine. Novant Health can already predict, with a high degree of accuracy, major heart health events before they happen, the probability of suicide attempts post-emergency department discharge, and the likelihood of falls through sensors.

She said she's proud of a long list of innovations in her nearly five years with Novant Health, such as its at-home diagnostic products, a technology that all but eliminates wait times for infusions and surgeries, becoming the first organization in the U.S. to deliver medical supplies by drone, and partnering with the Stewart-Haas Racing team to build ICU carts at the height of the pandemic.

"It's been a tremendous, tremendous experience and absolutely the best job I've ever had," Ms. Yochem said.

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