SSM Health CIO Sony Jacob: The tech investments to solve healthcare's 'wicked problems'

SSM Health's leadership team is focused on solving two of healthcare's "wicked problems": improving access to care and lowering costs.

"When you think about solving the wicked problems in healthcare, you have to start with a focus on defining the problem," said SSM Health CIO Sony Jacob. "When the problem is undefined, then it takes years and millions of dollars to solve and you get nowhere. First, define the problem, understand it and break it down, and then determine what you need to solve that problem.

“In our case, it's access and cost of care. We believe the two are interrelated because the more you lower cost, the lower the cost of access."

Here, Mr. Jacob discusses the technology component to improving access to solve these problems, as well as how he approaches new partnerships and tech investments.

Question: SSM Health has been successful in developing key partnerships to expand access to care and take steps toward solving healthcare's 'wicked problems.' Looking ahead to 2020-21, what are the top challenges the health system plans to take on?

Sony Jacob: When we start thinking about wicked problems in healthcare over the past 10 years, we see that the cost of care has gone up dramatically. As a Mission-based organization, we aim to provide care for the most vulnerable and to those who do not have means of getting care. We ask ourselves: How do we make healthcare available and affordable for all patients and keep them healthy?

At SSM Health, as we look at solving the problems of access and cost, we must determine what role can technology play in keeping patients healthier longer. For example, we routinely explore new business models and partnerships that leverage technology in the journey to becoming a population health organization. That’s why we made the decision to partner with Navvis Health and leverage its expertise and analytics to create a population health strategy grounded on a strong foundational care management platform.

Q: Over the next year, what investments do you foresee being the most significant as you aim to lower the overall cost of care?

SJ: We are maintaining a laser focus on driving down our operational costs for the system, and we think better cost management will create returns for us. Our biggest assets are our employees, so we’ve made a significant investment in a best-of-breed human resources platform to manage benefits and other automated functions for our employees.

Under this new investment, we want our employees to be able to access the platform and use its self-service capabilities in real time. That’s important, because the time that is wasted in healthcare all translates into extra costs for patients. In addition to reducing costs, having a more efficient human resources platform allows our clinicians and employees to spend more time with their patients.

For us, having a strong population health strategy – supported by a foundation of a robust human resources platform – will reduce the cost of care and keep patients healthier longer.

Q: How do you measure the value of the IT initiatives you take on?

SJ: Any initiative we take on must be in line with our system goals. For every project, we need to know the possible investment and then we can determine whether there is a positive ROI and whether it will improve patient care while reducing costs.

Q: What partnerships do you anticipate being key to your success in the coming year?

SJ: Partnerships with the community, the government, industry organizations, investors and patients are all crucial to solving healthcare's wicked problems. But the biggest partnership is our commitment to becoming a population health company and having standard population health practices for the patients we serve. To do that, we must scale our population health strategy across four states, and that’s what we’re focused on in 2020.

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