Tech 'an incredible strategic asset' as hospitals go beyond digital transformation, CIO says

Hospitals had to move quickly in the last two years to transform their digital assets for better data-gathering, virtual care and operational efficiencies. Data analytics dashboards and automation capabilities that were a "nice to have" in the past became an urgent priority during the pandemic.

Digital transformation accelerated during the early days of the pandemic because it became a necessity. Now, hospitals and health systems are moving beyond digital transformation to a new vision: a technology-enabled healthcare ecosystem.

"We've crossed this path now where healthcare organizations realize and understand that technology is an incredible strategic asset," said Chris Paravate, CIO of Northeast Georgia Health System, based in Gainesville. "It's an enabling capability and a path to innovate your delivery system that crosses both inpatient, outpatient, pre- and post-acute care, and all of the aspects of healthcare delivery, communications and interactions with patients and families."

To realize the vision of a tech-enabled healthcare ecosystem, hospitals are transitioning their on-premises data centers to the cloud through partnerships with big technology companies. Mr. Paravate sees the traditional on-premises data center application delivery model transforming into a cloud or multicloud-enabled architecture.

"This is really going to take our technology delivery through a complete transformation," he said. "It's going to remove a lot of the traditional barriers for data sharing, analytics, business intelligence and predictive modeling and deliver it in a very consumable manner into our daily operations."

The cloud also levels up hospital communications with patients and their families and creates a social ecosystem for patients faced with issues beyond their physical health. The more contemporary communication platform ties in food or housing needs, transportation needs and behavioral health services that patients need but are currently delivered in a very fractured model of care.

"The move to a more contemporary platform will create a digital ecosystem that'll allow us to connect all of those social services into our overall healthcare delivery model in a way that doesn't cost an abundance of dollars," said Mr. Paravate. "The barrier in the past has been that it's too hard or would take too many resources to pull together. A cloud architecture allows us to be nimble and dynamic and scalable and really tune our technology delivery toward the different needs of each community we serve."

Building the new healthcare delivery ecosystem takes more than just technology; it's also a cultural change for the health system. The team at Northeast Georgia Health System is focused on working collaboratively as an interdisciplinary team, bringing together core values from across the organization. The team builds relationships to leverage the diversity and creativity of the members.

"As you create that culture, you are building talent continuously and creating an environment that is about continuous learning, innovation and discovery," said Mr. Paravate. "Then you can quickly transform and retool that team from traditional server architects, or system engineers and database administrators, and transform. That's what a cloud-to-cloud delivery model would look like."

Mr. Paravate said it's important to be clear about how to structure that environment for new ideas. The leaders must be deliberate in configuring the team and advancing the IT architecture so as it scales new systems, the team can quickly build out new components in a uniform way.

"I've got the right team in place because we have the right culture," said Mr. Paravate. "We've hired the right team members, and we have people who really have a passion about learning. They may be an expert today in the more traditional systems, but they are learning agility to realize that transformation, and that's critically important, because while we're talking today about the transformation of how to deliver our core infrastructure and security, tomorrow it'll be something else."

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