The future of health IT: How UConn Health & UC Irvine Health are reimagining care

Hospitals across the nation are embracing the next generation of health IT solutions. However, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for the successful application of these new tools. As emerging technologies become more widespread, healthcare leaders must work to identify health IT strategies tailored to address their organization's specific needs.  

On the third day of a three-day Becker's Virtual Health IT Summit sponsored by Lenovo Health and Intel and held Nov. 6-8, two healthcare leaders — Bruce Metz, PhD, vice president and CIO at Farmington-based UConn Health, and Chuck Podesta, CIO at Orange, Calif.-based UC Irvine Health — discussed how their organizations are staying innovative. To learn how a technology partner can help healthcare organizations reach their goals, Lenovo Health's Wyatt Yelverton offered commentary on the company's approach to designing new healthcare IT solutions.

UConn Health's innovation challenge? How to prioritize ideas

"Innovation is integral to UConn Health's DNA," Dr. Metz said. "We don't have a shortage of ideas … Our challenge is how do we prioritize ideas," he added.

As the leading health system in Connecticut, UConn Health led the state in an ehealth initiative involving telemedicine. The program was widely successful, Dr. Metz said. Among the 500 to 600 econsults conducted within two years, the health system noted a significant reduction in the time it took patients to access care, an increase in patient and provider satisfaction, and a reduction in emergency room visits from chronically-ill patients.

Dr. Metz said when building a health IT-supported care improvement initiative, it is imperative to start with a strong foundation. Often, this is an extension of the EHR through mobile devices or industry standard application programming interfaces or software mechanisms. But just as important as the technology, he added, is the support teams behind it.

"If the foundation is done right — centered around the EHR — that incremental investment should be manageable for most organizations," Dr. Metz said. "But it is really making sure the 24/7 support comes along with it … [That] human element becomes critical."

Dr. Metz shared his No. 1 piece of advice for other health systems looking to deploy a successful technology program: Focus on the interplay of the people, the organization's culture and the overall strategy, as well as the tech platform itself. Most importantly, the project's objective should align with the organization's overall goal.

"It is very easy to be tempted to boil the ocean. Once you stimulate interest and engagement in members of an organization, you come back with a number of ideas and you can't do all of them — [Instead,] prioritize [ideas] by aligning objectives of the project with organizational goals," Dr. Metz advised.

Why UC Irvine teamed up with UC San Diego to stay innovative

Mr. Podesta explained that UC Irvine Health, which is part of the broader University of California system, collaborates closely with the other five organizations in the system. When the collaboration first began, he realized a key challenge: UC Irvine was the only facility of the five not on an Epic EHR.

Rather than opting for Epic's foundational model, UC Irvine used a scorecarding process to evaluate the builds at the other four facilities, and it ultimately chose to partner with UC San Diego. The main reason UC Irvine identified UC San Diego as the ideal partner was because the two were similar in size. In this way, the two systems could partner and co-exist, rather than one absorb the other. Through this partnership, UC Irvine Health not only saved nearly $35 million, but realized other opportunities for additional savings and ways to accomplish more goals – including driving innovation – with fewer resources.

The partners decided to combine their IT departments in a joint purchase services model where the two purchase project managers from each organization share management and split the costs down the middle. This enables both hospitals to pursue additional technology projects that remain sustainable and are able to scale. Overall, Mr. Podesta said the two project savings are in the range of $10 to $15 million annually.

"The future is bright for us because now it is kind of a one plus one equals four from a math perspective on what we are doing, and from a cost perspective, one plus one equals 0.5. We've kind of hit both those markers and are pretty excited about it," Mr. Podesta said.

How a technology partner like Lenovo Health can help

At the forefront of the health technology sector, Mr. Yelverton understands technology is rapidly evolving, particularly from a mobility standpoint. Much of these changes in the tech landscape are driven by increasing and changing consumer demands, as patients begin to play a more active role in their care.

"Mobility is a huge point of focus, especially with respect to how we can embrace this concept of value delivery, how we are able to engage patients, how we are able to keep them and be able to simultaneously improve lines of business, revenue opportunities and the overall market opportunity," Mr. Yelverton said.

This means that the next generation of technology has to be flexible and applicable, Mr. Yelverton said. Patients want to be able to use the same technologies that they use in their daily lives.

Lenovo is helping hospitals keep up with these changes by designing products tailored to the specific needs of an organization and its physicians, Mr. Yelverton said. He added that this individualization is made possible by open communication with hospitals. In other words, Lenovo is in sync with the providers, so it's able to anticipate their needs rather than build its products in a vacuum.

To stay innovative, hospitals must think outside of the box when it comes to technology strategies. The right technology partner can reduce or even eliminate any barriers to success.

To access the webinar recording, click here.

To learn more about Lenovo Health, click here.

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