The IT projects 12 health system execs will put on hold due to the pandemic 

As hospitals and health systems across the country grapple with revenue declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, executives are mapping out which IT projects they can delay amid potential financial constraints.

While most health systems are continuing to invest in data analytics platforms, telehealth and telework capabilities, projects involving more strategic tech initiatives such as non-regulatory EHR upgrades are being put on the back burner.

Here, 12 CIOs and CMIOs share the projects their teams are currently evaluating and which they plan to put on hold in light of potential financial constraints.

Jesus Delgado. Vice president and CIO of Community Healthcare System (Munster, Ind.): Any project that does not present a return on investment will be closely evaluated. Fortunately technology is a paramount enabler to almost everything we do in healthcare, however, it will be imperative that we manage our IT financial investments wisely to ensure the prosperity of our healthcare system.

Mark Lauteren. CIO of El Centro (Calif.) Regional Medical Center: The projects we are putting on hold for now include EHR upgrades that are not regulatory requirements and any non-urgent infrastructure upgrades.

Curt Kwak. CIO of Proliance (Seattle): Not that the other initiatives would not, but we prioritized those that will provide quick, immediate benefits. We are also very cognizant of the current economic conditions and the overall cash flows are tight, so we are very careful in our discernment process of selecting what makes sense and what not during these times. Some key large initiatives that are deferred for now are enterprise wide platform enhancements, such as large code upgrades and adoption of new technologies as well as those that would require large initial capital investments. Those are being carefully considered and/or deferred.

Mike Russell. CIO of Shannon Medical Center (San Angelo, Texas): I don't believe we have put any projects on hold, but we have delayed a few due to reduced staffing hours or because of stretched resources. Our normally scheduled quarterly upgrade for Epic was delayed one month as we didn't want to cause un-needed stress to the medical staff, as they required focus on the growing pandemic. Shannon has been lucky to work within such a great community where the spread of COVID-19 was greatly reduced and consequently we have not seen the large wave of patients that was originally expected. Because of that we have put Epic back on schedule for a mid-May update. 

Raymond Lowe. Senior vice president and CIO of AltaMed Health Services (Los Angeles): We are not purposefully stopping any of our other projects or technology enablement. Automation and artificial intelligence will help our providers and patients. If I had to pick one, I would slow down my unified communications voice over internet protocol project. 

Eric Neil. CIO of UW Medicine (Seattle): We, like so many others, will re-review all planned projects and take a magnifying glass to the value equation of those projects and more so, will use a microscope on the cost portion of those value equations. Within IT we will look for long-term cost savings, including the acceleration of our virtual desktop infrastructure project and our project to consolidate data centers.

An opportunity we are excited about is how to provide technological solutions to our hospital departments in order to help them drive down cost. COVID-19 has caused us all to go through a rapid work-from-home boot camp and departments are determining how to make this the new norm. We are looking at leveraging existing software solutions to help staff be productive and we are investigating work-from-home kits that would provide the hardware necessary for staff to do their work remotely while staying connected to team members.   

Patrick Woodard, MD. Vice president of clinical systems and chief medical information officer of Renown Health (Reno, Nev.): We are actively doing this evaluation. Many of our IT projects planned for this year and next already had efficiency in mind, so we are working closely with our finance team to see what projects make more sense to keep and which to defer. This pandemic will prove to be a transformative experience no matter how you slice it, so our primary goal is to choose our own adventure rather than have it chosen for us.

Tom Barnett. CIO of University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center: I think this probably goes for most organizations at this point, capital-intensive projects or anything that is more strategic in general are paused at the moment. We will absolutely pick those up again at some point in the future, but right now the priority is focusing on our providers, clinicians and patients and doing everything we can to support them. 

Another aspect we are looking at is taking a fresh assessment of our overall technology architecture, where do we have duplicative services, where do we have technologies that aren't yet fully utilized? Maximizing our current investments is something that never hurts to keep revisiting before we entertain new projects or new solutions. 

Darrell Bodnar. CIO of North Country Healthcare (Lancaster, N.H.): Items that we are putting on hold in the short term are those that lean toward operations rather than clinical care delivery, such as an integrated telephone system, an Office 365 rollout, quite a few smaller enhancement and convenience projects. Long term is a little less clear at this time. We have done well financially thanks to the efforts of great system leadership, so our clinical consolidation and standardizing efforts will continue through the end of this calendar year, which is already budgeted for. Time will tell how we all look on the other side of this pandemic and how that will impact growth and advancement, but I am sure the landscape will be permanently changed. I feel there will be exponential growth in the delivery of virtual care and AI assisted efficiencies, and perhaps we can evaluate some of the regulatory restraints regarding reimbursement that have shackled parts of healthcare. I also feel there will be a wave of consumerism that will demand things from healthcare that we have not experienced before and are briefly seeing with telehealth now. It has disrupted every other industry and sector already and healthcare is ripe for the change.

John Henderson. Vice president and CIO of CHOC Children's (Orange, Calif.): We have been reviewing our portfolio and have been slowing down initiatives that are not directly tied to strategic priorities or our infrastructure lifecycle program. We are more focused on working the right initiatives that support our patients/patient families and our strategic priorities.

Linda Reed. Vice president and CIO of St. Joseph's Healthcare System (Paterson, N.J.): We will put more enhancement projects on hold, so any types of requests such as adding modules to the EHR or changing module capabilities. Any of these types of projects will be pushed back a little bit unless it is something that will really make a significant difference. 

Jeffrey Hoffman, MD. CMIO of Nationwide Children's Hospital (Columbus, Ohio): Financially, our institution had already started 2020 in an outstanding position with significant capital and operational investments in place. Like other pediatric institutions across the country, we have experienced substantial volume and revenue reductions, especially in our emergency department, urgent care centers and outpatient clinics. As a result, we have had to make reciprocal reductions in staffing and other variable expenses. Given all the IT demands of telework and telehealth, not to mention the core services we represent, our IT department has not experienced any such reductions. However, no one knows what will be needed next year. I think we are all patiently waiting this out a bit more before jumping to any conclusions.

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