We need flexible technology management, not just flexible technology

When one is faced with a difficult challenge, sometimes the key to finding a solution is to start asking new questions.

If a problem seems insoluble, accepting that the standard approaches won't work and changing the context of your thinking can lead to new solutions.

That's part of the value of attending events like HIMSS 2015. At a big conference like HIMSS, you get a chance to talk about the big questions with people who you might never meet otherwise.

A case in point was the focus group on "Technology for Tomorrow's Hospital Today," hosted by one of my colleagues.

As many in the group noted, as the pace of change in information technology has increased, it has become impossible for healthcare systems to anticipate the next new way of using technology. If you don't know what your data center will face in the next few months, let alone the next few years, how do you adequately plan for and invest in new technology?

"When do we quit building computer rooms and start building network rooms? How do we migrate out of that?" asked one participant. For healthcare IT leaders whose jobs have been about building and managing data centers, that's a scary question.

Another member of the focus group offered up what I think is a pretty good answer. "The biggest key is to have a flexible management. We need to have flexibility to change the budget. I'm not talking about technology flexibility – but having flexible management."

I have spent many years consulting with hospitals on fostering physician leadership and creating physician champions for adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). So I've had an inside look at the attitudes and cultures of many organizations. From what I've seen, the most successful organizations are led by leaders with intellectual flexibility and a willingness to change when conditions demand it.

While that observation applies across all areas of healthcare management, it is particularly critical to those involved in technology projects. To quote another member of the focus group, "We're trying to make plans today of things we can't even dream of tomorrow."

An example of where flexibility of mindset has paid off is the use of cloud infrastructure. Just a few years ago, less than half of CIOs were willing to consider use of cloud infrastructure, citing concerns about lack of control and security. Now, 83 percent of healthcare organizations who responded to the 2014 HIMSS Analytics Cloud Survey said they use cloud services, and 9.3 percent intend to add cloud services.

One reason cited by many is lower cost, and cloud can indeed lower the cost of IT infrastructure and maintenance. But an even more important benefit is flexibility.

We all know that value-based reimbursement will dramatically alter healthcare delivery, and hospitals are likely to see lower utilization of many services that are currently profitable for them. New services, such as telehealth and care coordination, will become more valuable. This will change the way health systems use technology and will require much more sophisticated data interchange than is the current norm for most.

While the core mission of health systems – helping people live healthy lives – won't change, health systems will have to make a radical shift in their approach to be successful. They'll still have to treat sick people, but they will also have to provide services to help prevent hospital stays. But those services are not yet well defined, and healthcare organizations need to make technology investments that give them the greatest flexibility and versatility. They also have to invest in leaders who are flexible and willing to do the intellectual work of figuring out what comes next.

Dr. Charlotte Hovet is a physician executive within Dell Services Healthcare & Life Sciences with extensive experience in medical staff governance and leading healthcare transformation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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