What CIOs learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S. in 2020 life slowed down for many people, but for health system CIOs things sped up. With new technologies needed to solve healthcare challenges, health systems CIOs learned to produce quality work in record time, to embrace change and that their teams were invaluable. 

Here, eight CIOs shared with Becker's the greatest lessons they have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Saad Chaudhry. CIO of Luminis Health (Annapolis, Md.). The biggest lesson I learned was that we (health systems and their CxOs) can move fast, on incomplete data and limited long-term knowledge, if we really need to. 

Often changes, especially large-scale ones in healthcare, seem daunting and so, we feel we must pressure-test them to negate as much risk as possible. 

For many years we heard the mantra of "move fast, fail fast, innovate!" from other industries, but healthcare never fully adopted it. 

Then came the pandemic, which threw everything we knew into the wind. All of a sudden, we had to do something new to accommodate the unknown every single day. 

We didn't have time to work out all the edge concerns and minimize the pain of change. Change, rapid large-scale global change, for that matter, was now our modus operandi. And in this new normal, we were unafraid to take leaps. Especially with the support of the regulatory and policy aspects, we were unafraid to jerry-rig things to make them work. To take chances, to work differently, to shift things and pivot suddenly in case our original approach didn't bear fruit. 

For many CIOs, this was liberating. It felt like the uncapping of this immense potential that had existed under the surface all along.

Pavan Attur. CIO of Hudson Regional Hospital (Secaucus, N.J.). Being nimble: To get things done fast, implement new technology and customize EHRs to meet organization needs related to COVID-19 tracking, documentation and reporting.

Sunil Dadlani. CIO at Atlantic Health System (Morristown, N.J). COVID-19 has been a disrupter and accelerator at global scale with global impact on all industries. 

The greatest lesson that we have learned is how everything is connected from geo-political situations to cyber events to supply chain to great resignations to consumer experience.

Carl Smith. CIO King's Daughters Medical Center (Ashland, Ky.). The biggest lesson that I've learned is that you change the things that you can control, and embrace the rest until the storm passes.  

With COVID-19, changes came to our health system almost daily. We were constantly changing our policies and our workflows to meet the new demands, which we had not seen before.  

In IT, we are accustomed to preparing for potential downtimes, disasters and virtually every circumstance imaginable. But who could have imagined a worldwide epidemic that would have the impact as this has had on our world and our health systems. 

Steven Travers. CIO of USA Healthcare (Cullman, Ala.). As a CIO the biggest lesson I have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that technology capabilities are an antecedent to a healthcare organization's resiliency. 

For example, we have two ambulatory EMR applications, but only one was able to quickly adapt to our needs for large-scale testing and vaccination. 

In addition to the EMR technology capabilities, we had recently implemented Microsoft's Office 365 platform, enabling the organization to easily collaborate, share urgent information and boost morale by staff posting messages of appreciation.

Linda Stevenson, CIO of Fisher-Titus Medical Center (Norwalk, Ohio). The biggest lesson is that our teams are more agile than we ever thought possible. They all rose to the occasion and were able to accomplish work in less time than we have ever experienced. Their dedication and creativity made me proud to be a healthcare leader during this time.

Jennifer Greenman. CIO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America (Boca Raton, Fla.). When I reflect on the early days of the pandemic, I'm incredibly proud that our organization and teams were able to transform our core delivery model from physical to virtual/hybrid care in a matter of weeks.  

This accomplishment was in no small part due to our ability to adapt to changing circumstances and respond with speed.  

Given the unpredictable nature of our current business environment, legacy operating models, cultures and behaviors, we must evolve broadly across the industry to embrace this sense of purposeful agility and flexibility. 

We also must plan and govern models that rely upon a long-term, fixed and predictable set of assumptions that will likely be disrupted by flexible, iterative approaches that embrace uncertainty and an adaptive mindset. 

Darrell Bodnar. CIO of North County Healthcare (Whitefield, N.H.). It is very difficult to narrow down all the lessons learned during the pandemic to just one, but if I had to, it would be confirmation that the most important asset in any healthcare organization is its people. 

The tragedies and loss that occurred during the pandemic were overwhelming. The toll and stress put on all staff will certainly last for many years to come. Through all the unknowns in the beginning of the pandemic followed by testing needs, vaccine administration, staffing shortages, vaccine mandates, mis-information and even now continued variants, clinical staff, leadership, and all aspects of care delivery were resilient and fought through everything with clear risks to themselves to ensure our patients needs were met.  

With a great migration away from healthcare, every single healthcare employee is essential. We are truly grateful for our adaptive and resilient staff more than anything else.


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