'We have an entirely new definition of what is critical': CIO Jeffrey Sturman on how COVID-19 is altering IT priorities now and for the future

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted the focus of all hospital and health system personnel, whether they're caregivers, supply chain managers or on the IT team.

Technology in particular has played an essential role in supporting remote work, internal communications and an influx of telehealth and virtual visits since COVID-19 began spreading across the U.S., and CIOs have shifted their attention to these essential projects. Here, Hollywood, Fla.-based Memorial Healthcare System CIO Jeffrey Sturman outlines his key priorities today and lessons learned from his efforts to support the system's caregivers during the pandemic.

He also touches on how the coronavirus will likely affect the system's technology and innovation strategy in the future.

Question: What is your IT team's top three priorities during the coronavirus pandemic?

Jeffrey Sturman: My top three priorities are:

1. Enhancing and rapidly pushing out our existing telehealth capabilities while also developing new way to communicate with our patients.

2. Helping to coordinate consistent and constant communication with our patients and consumers via any and all technology means; that includes websites, text, email, bots, telephone and even manually while also helping to facilitate communications to our internal healthcare staff, through video conferencing and all other traditional means.

3. Designing automated screening, scheduling, and results notification processes with our local, regional, and state representatives in the testing of COVID-19.

Q: Do you have any tips or lessons learned for other CIOs across the country?

JS: We all need to remain extremely flexible in these uncertain times. We need to continue to do the 'magic' behind the scenes in keeping our systems up a running. We also need to be as proactive as possible, for example by addressing network bandwidth, and making sure what is typically not a remote working staff are able to do their jobs in a secure and effective way.

We are used to running projects across our diverse settings. Our IT teams are oftentimes helpful in coordinating and facilitating major initiatives and we are certainly in the midst of major activities with dealing with COVID-19 and IT can help keep things controlled. Finally, we are all in this together, and we have a lot of highly qualified staff that can support those areas in our hospitals that are not traditionally IT functions, but in emergent situations we all can play a role.

Q: How do you communicate and motivate your team at this time? What has changed and what is staying the same?

JS: Unfortunately a lot has changed. We are limiting non-essential staff at our facilities, which of course limits our ability to move forward with what we did think were 'critical' IT projects from moving forward. We have an entirely new definition of what is 'critical.' We are doing a lot more remotely and it becomes harder to communicate effectively. We are trying to communicate with our teams through frequent teleconferencing and maintaining some sense of normalcy. I think we have to remember that none of us have ever dealt with anything like this before, so we are learning on the fly, but constant communications and transparency with our teams help in clarity and to stay connected.

Q: How will the coronavirus pandemic affect your IT and innovation strategy and focus over the next 18 months?

JS: That remains to be seen, but this could really reshape some of our priorities. I could see a much higher degree and understanding as to why telehealth should be gaining more adoptions and therefore more resources are put to this, while maybe taking away from other areas. We already have a focus on moving to more mobile based solutions, and I think we will see this prioritized with even further significance. There will be new innovative communication solutions and implementation of bots that were viewed as nice to have and now really being critical to operations. Undoubtedly, we will all be looking at new solutions and reprioritizing our efforts over the next 18 months.

Becker's seeks to highlight CIO and innovation leader insights and lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic. If you would like to contribute, contact Laura Dyrda at ldyrda@beckershealthcare.com 

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