What's both the most overrated and the most exciting thing in healthcare? AI, says Protenus' Robert Lord: 4 questions

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In this special Speaker Series, Becker's Healthcare caught up with Robert Lord, co-founder and president of Protenus.

Mr. Lord will speak on a panel during the Becker's Hospital Review 4th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference titled "Demystifying Ransomware: New and Emerging Tactics, Variants and Strategies Hackers are Using," at 9:45 a.m. Friday, Sept. 21. Learn more about the event and register to attend in Chicago.

Question: What do you see as the most vulnerable part of a hospital's business?

Robert Lord: Trust between healthcare employees and patients should be the cornerstone of a hospital's business; however, far too often health systems have little visibility into who is accessing patient data and for what purpose. This threat to institutional trust increases as healthcare insiders continue to repeatedly breach patient privacy and are responsible for around one-third of disclosed breaches, according to Protenus' second quarter Breach Barometer report. There is an overall lack of alignment between the desired values of an institution and the reality of its data protection posture, as evidenced by the fact that 78 percent of healthcare workers lack proper data privacy and security awareness. It is an institution's responsibility to make these necessary adjustments. The basic principle of absolute patient privacy isn't an option — but their obligation.

Q: What is the most exciting thing happening in health IT right now? And what is the most overrated health IT trend?

RL: The most overhyped trend in health IT is almost certainly artificial intelligence. AI has become a buzzword that has been co-opted to mean any novel technology or platform with an analytic function. As I heard from a healthcare technology leader just the other day, "If you work with data, now it's big data.  If you do math, now it's AI." We find ourselves in the midst of an "AI moment" — AI is seen as a panacea that will save us from institutional confusion, a myriad of cyberthreats and workforce shortages, but AI too often leads to broken promises. Without demonstrated efficacy, return on investment and a team that can properly implement the technology, AI probably isn't the cure to many problems.

However, AI is also the most exciting thing happening in healthcare right now, when thoughtfully evaluated and implemented.  In our world, we see AI empower health systems to review 100 percent of accesses in their EHR and other systems, decluttering the hectic, time-consuming and confusing work of detecting privacy violations and clinical drug diversion.  An AI-based solution can be invaluable when dealing with challenges that involve complexity, scale and repetition — and it allows for more accurate descriptions in reporting and investigations. At its core, AI can take lower-value work off of privacy and pharmacy teams' plates, leaving more bandwidth to focus on strategic issues they want to tackle. When AI is implemented correctly, institutional ROI is significant and demonstrable, and at the end of that day, that's the most important thing.

Q: What's one conviction in healthcare that needs to be challenged?

RL: A conviction in healthcare that needs to be challenged is the notion that privacy and security are purely compliance and technology issues. In reality, they're patient safety issues. Privacy concerns should be based on maintaining the dignity of the patient and creating a safe environment for them to share the information needed to receive the best possible care. If a patient can't trust that their information will be kept safe from prying eyes — within and outside of a health system's walls — then their providers won't be empowered to treat them to the best of their ability.

This conviction ties back to that core question of trust for a healthcare institution — failure to maintain proper safeguards to PHI, an inability to review every access to patient data for its appropriateness and a lack of ability to proactively detect threats to patient data — and will all lead to worse outcomes and lost patients over time.

Q: How do you promote innovation within your organization?

RL: Promotion of innovation at Protenus centers around empowered execution. This begins with hiring the best people to perform and properly aligning them with our overall goals. We believe that given the freedom to make decisions, take ownership and stimulate oneself intellectually, individuals will work harder and smarter, more passionately and more creatively. We strive to empower every member of the team to set their own course, challenge themselves, use good judgement and take ownership of their actions. We find that as long as our employees are delivering results that support our goals, solve problems, and respect and collaborate with others, then they're having a positive impact on what we do.

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