'Seize the moment': Northwell's new CIO Sophy Lu looks to use tech to reimagine healthcare

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health's new CIO Sophy Lu looks to seize the moment of healthcare technology acceleration and change that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. In her new role as CIO, Ms. Lu aims to use technology to deliver and implement change for Northwell Health and its patients. 

Becker's spoke to Ms. Lu about the evolution of the CIO role, healthcare tech and her strategies for the health system's digital IT and services direction. 

Question: How did your role as deputy CIO prepare you for this role?

Sophy Lu: The role as deputy CIO was part of the succession planning for my transition with the CIO. Shadowing John Bosco, and then assuming the role and responsibilities of acting CIO and being a part of Northwell's executive leadership team, well prepared me to assume the CIO role; and the continuity for future plans and decisions.

Q: What do you see as the CIO's top priority?

SL: The CIO role is very much evolving to be a critical success factor to transform healthcare, including people-process-technology, and deliver strategic mission, vision and goals of the health system. In my position, I must understand the business objectives and key results so technology can complement and enable people and operations to be the change.

As CIOs, we also need to continuously drive the modernization and automation agenda to enable speed and quality to delivery and cultivate our team's digital ability to quickly pivot and leverage emerging technologies, tools and the power of data to perform their work (with security baked in).  

Lastly, core leadership and communication skills are extremely important. The competition and pace of work is accelerated and changing so rapidly, which makes the expectations of our customers and workforce, even the practice of medicine, different than in the past. CIOs must continuously exemplify to the team and evolve, innovate and work together in carpe diem.  

Q: How do you stay current on innovations and trends within the health tech space?

SL: A lot of learning, a lot of conversations and a lot of networking. Not only with big tech companies, but with small tech, emerging companies, peers, universities, research and with different venture portfolios. Always be curious and a constant student.

I think it's also important to cross collaborate with various industries and to look across the globe. As healthcare and technology evolves, we need to look outside of the norms and reimagine the possibilities while staying true to balance the immediate goals and to glide and pivot towards the future. 

Q: What's your strategic plan for Northwell? 

SL: Today, I view the digital IT and services strategic plan as having three critical elements. The first is working to continue to modernize our technology stack and rationalize our estate. We are currently evaluating our EHR foundations to do such and to simplify the workflow, integrations and end-to-end systems for the patient, clinician and workforce.

Second, we are looking to continuously evolve the data and platform architecture so that we can ease interoperability so that we can easily enable automation, AI, research and digital solutions to raise health.  

Lastly, excel to lead with our people strategy — evolve the talent, culture and recognition. One can accomplish anything with mission and teamwork.

Q: What does Northwell's current tech environment look like? And what are some challenges you look to overcome?

SL: Our current tech environment consists of a vast array of applications for both clinical and non-clinical portfolios (through best of breed and growth and expansion). As we look to streamline and modernize, we must prioritize initiatives and resources to minimize disruption and rework.

Q: Where do you see the health information technology industry heading in the next three to five years? 

SL: Since the pandemic, healthcare technology has been in the center of attention with lots of emerging tech, digital startups and portfolios. I see this evolving and will continue to refine and mature in collaboration with health system pilots, clinical and workflow acumen. We will also harness the power of data, advance sciences to use it, map it, orchestrate it and, non-traditional players will continue to disrupt healthcare and bring new expectations and experiences to personalize care delivery and wellness. 

It is a pivotal time for transformation. Healthcare, technology and adjacent functions (e.g. pharma, government, payer, research, etc.) need to collaborate and elevate pieces and ultimately an entire tapestry of services for every touch, for everyone.

It's also so important that as tech evolves we do not lose the human touch, privacy and quality of the care product.

Q: What excites you most about your new role?

SL: I think what I am most excited for is that there are amazing things happening in healthcare transformation and a lot of it right here at Northwell. I have a unique opportunity to be a part of that change and be a leader to ultimately influence the impact on lives of humans, families and communities.

There's a lot of eagerness and aspiration to contribute to change in the healthcare space, and I'm looking forward to seizing that moment and reaping that energy to showcase how technology can foster the reimagination of healthcare. 

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