Upstate New York hospital CIO talks priorities for COVID-19 fight and beyond

Laura Dyrda (Twitter) -

Tom Barnett, CIO of University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, and his team have been supporting front-line clinicians and staff to ensure patients with COVID-19 get care in one of the hardest hit states in the nation.

His team rapidly switched from its ongoing IT initiatives to scaling the system's ability to support telehealth and work from home. Here, he discusses his top priorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how he is looking ahead.

Question: What are your top two to three priorities today?

Tom Barnett: Our top priorities tended to shift very quickly once COVID-19 takes center stage. As a result, the team shifted priorities to those that immediately supported URMC, including scaling up our ability to support work from home scenarios, expanding our telemedicine care offerings to keep our providers connected with their patients, and focusing on our expenses, both operating and capital, to assist the organization through this challenging time. I am extremely proud to have a great IT leadership team that is staying synchronized with our operational leadership, and our entire IT team is doing a phenomenal job, sometimes working seven days per week, to support our front-line clinical personnel during these rapidly unfolding events.


Q: How do you anticipate COVID-19 will change your strategy in the next six to 12 months?

TB: I think everyone in healthcare right now will be trying to navigate what this impact will have on all of us. What it will likely mean to us for the next 12 months is that we will want to redouble our focus on partnering with our operational leaders to achieve operational efficiencies wherever the opportunities exist. I can also see this pairing nicely with a more narrowly focused analytics strategy to produce the information and intelligence to help us all locate additional cost or workflow efficiency opportunities and make sure that we are working with as much knowledge as possible. We want to make sure that we are wringing every bit of value out of our current systems and operations that we can. We will work with our system leadership to see what long-term strategic priorities can gain additional resources as the country slowly gets back to normal. It's the same, I’m sure, in every healthcare organization right now.

Q: Where do you see the biggest need for technology resources and budget to support caregivers through this time?

TB: The game board can change so often right now as we pivot to support the next priority. Not only for us, but anyone in healthcare IT, we always want to make sure that we are supporting new workflow arrangements (work from home, video-conferencing, telephones, etc.) and are able to turn configuration changes around quickly in our EMR — be it the need for new bed types, new visit types, or new locations altogether that are needed for front-line care providers.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

TB: While all of this focus is taking priority, and rightly so, making sure that we remain vigilant on our security fronts. Hackers never take time off, and they always look for scenarios to exploit for maximum benefit when our collective industry and national attentions are suddenly drawn elsewhere. Hackers never sleep.

Q: How do you see COVID-19 changing the health IT landscape going forward?

TB: This entire crisis will shape health IT and health systems in profound ways going forward. I think this national event has proven the viability of telemedicine and video collaboration tools to work on a larger scale. I anticipate accelerated growth in these two spaces as it becomes even more mainstream than before. As an industry, we have been preparing for this eventual shift, and I think recent events will likely provide the impetus to make these technologies a de facto aspect of life. I also anticipate greater collaboration between healthcare IT and Silicon Valley as we partner expand current care and service offerings while exploring new ones.


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