How COVID-19 and the 'Great Resignation' affected health systems

A healthcare professional goes in-depth about the changes in healthcare and what's becoming the new normal. 

Neal Patel, MD, serves as the chief information officer at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Patel will serve on the panel "Top IT Investments of Smart CIOs" at Becker's 7th Annual Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting: The Future of Business and Clinical Technologies. As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the conference, which will take place Oct. 4-7 in Chicago. 

To learn more and register, click here.

Question: What are you most excited about right now?

Dr. Neal Patel: The most exciting thing in our field is the ability to leverage many techniques and applications prolific in the consumer world and begin to weave them into healthcare engagement with patients. Additionally, to leverage a lot of the data that we have across our health systems into ways that we can even create more optimal mechanisms of caring for patients is extremely exciting.

Q: What challenges do you anticipate over the next two years?  

NP: Well, I think the new normal after COVID-19 and the Great Resignation is that we are all struggling with, especially in health systems, the labor shortage. When you get into this type of situation, technology is constantly looked to in ways to help alleviate the burden of needing front-line folks in person. So, it's an opportunity, but it's also a struggle because this requires a lot of change in mindset, as well as an investment at a time when people just don't have the time or the resources from an operational front to partner with technology teams to figure out the best solutions to move forward.

Q: Where are the best opportunities for disruption in healthcare today?

NP: The biggest opportunity, and we're already beginning to see it, is changing our traditional mindset of approaching a patient's health as episodic care. People have talked about population health or long-term preventive maintenance, but it's not been at the scale where we need to go. One of the silver linings of the horrible pandemic was this quick transition by all of society to engage virtually and become so comfortable with it. I think this has transformed patients' trust and a doctor's trust in asynchronous or virtual interactions.

I think that is going to move forward more and more, and I think the younger generation is more used to asynchronous communication rather than having to be on the phone and waiting for the answer, et cetera, et cetera. So I do feel that there are incredible opportunities that we can leverage, just the changing mindset of what different interactions have to be like and how we deliver care, not just at the point of illness or the point of a need, but be a part of a patient or a patient's family's journey throughout the whole process of well-being. I think the technology is at a stage now where we can do that, and I think the people's mindsets are at a stage where we can do that.

Q: How is your role as a CIO evolving? How are IT teams changing?

NP: For background, I'm a physician who started as the physician champion type person 25 years ago here at Vanderbilt, and grew into the role of CMIO, and then moved into the CIO role, which for us is really on the digital side and the clinical application side of the work. We have a CTO that takes care of classic IT infrastructure and enterprise business programs. The role of the CIO is evolving to be much more knowledgeable about the operational and clinical processes in ways where technology intersects and not just about making sure that the technology's working. Therefore, it's been an interesting journey to begin to push folks to think about how different applications may need to work together for a solution that no single vendor has the answer to yet. We have begun to leverage those areas here at Vanderbilt to make magic happen.

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