Sanford Health's chief digital officer wants urban care for rural America

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health's recently recruited inaugural chief digital officer, Jared Antczak, is excited about the future of healthcare and wants to transform the digital experience to make it something patients rave about. 

Jared Antczak joined Sanford Health March 8 from Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health, where he served as vice president and head of digital product. His career in healthcare has spanned a decade on both the provider and payer side. He spoke to Becker's about his new role at the largest rural health system in the country and how he's poised to transform the healthcare experience for rural Americans.

"Early on in my career I worked with a health system that was implementing an EHR for the first time, and I saw firsthand how technology often inhibited the patient-provider relationship rather than facilitated it," he said. "I saw how that sacred moment between provider and patient was often disrupted by technologies, and I turned down an offer to go to med school so I could focus on this problem specifically, and that's been the driving force behind my career ever since." 

Mr. Antczak was brought on to the inaugural position at Sanford as the leader who could drive forward the system's  $350 million virtual care initiative it announced in 2021.  The system also created the role out of a "recognition of the potential of digital."

"I think by having a CDO we could deliver focus and attention on digital and really unlock that potential for the organization. We have a chief information officer as well, but we recognize that without separating the roles and having a deliberate focus on digital, sometimes the innovative and new building for the future with digital activities takes a backseat to some of the more pressing urgent matters," he told Becker's.

By being the leader of the system's digital strategy, Mr. Antczak can focus exclusively on the future of innovation at the system and how it can benefit both patients and providers. Given that Sanford is the largest rural health provider in the nation, the patient base provides unique opportunities for solutions and experiences. 

"If we think about rural U.S. and the upper midwest, we have some members in our community that have to travel three to four hours to get to the nearest doctors' office, so you can imagine that sacrifice of time and resources can make it difficult for people to get the care they need. The potential for digital to bring care closer to home, or even in the home, can be life changing and even lifesaving for these communities."

Part of improving this care means focusing on patients' access to broadband, necessary devices and their digital literacy, all as ways to remove friction points. 

"Urban care for rural America is really what we're striving for."

Mr. Antczak said healthcare's offerings for digital experiences severely lag behind those of other industries. He compared the ease and joy of some of his favorite digital experiences, such as an airline's app or a ride-hailing service, with the lack of fluidity in digital healthcare experiences. However, he sees this disparity in user experience as an opportunity.

"Healthcare is very complex. Leveraging digital to remove friction is both a challenge and opportunity to do something transformative and meaningful. Great digital experiences make complex and hard things simple and easy, and healthcare is complex," he said. "I'm so excited about the future of healthcare. I think we're right on the cusp of doing something really remarkable."

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