Healthcare is in 'race to innovate,' Cedars-Sinai CIO says

From his days working as a pharmacist with a Chicago-area chain more than three decades ago, Craig Kwiatkowski, PharmD, has witnessed the evolution of health IT. And he's excited for the future of the field.

"Ten years ago, many caregivers couldn't imagine some of the advancements that they simply can't live without today," Dr. Kwiatkowski, the senior vice president of enterprise information systems and CIO of Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai, told Becker's. "And 10 years from now, I suspect the same is going to be true. I think our openness to new technology, our appetite for the next best thing, has grown and will continue to grow exponentially. In a way, it's forced a bit of a race to innovate, which has been terrific."

He took over as CIO at Cedars-Sinai in March, having worked in IT roles for the academic health system since 2009.

He said he's excited about continuing Cedars-Sinai's "long, long history of innovation." That includes digital tech, data analytics and molecular medicine. The health system recently opened a department of computational biomedicine and a division of artificial intelligence.

"It's all about research and discovery and looking for ways to improve care and the practice of medicine," he said.

A unique path to CIO

Dr. Kwiatkowski started at Cedars-Sinai — much like his career overall — working in pharmacy services (he oversaw it for the IT department).

He earned his doctor of pharmacy degree from Midwestern University in Downers Grove, Ill., before working for pharmacy chain Osco. That's where he was introduced to health IT, in the form of order entry systems. He later joined University of Chicago Medicine as an inpatient pharmacist, and said tech became a "full time" part of the job with the implementation of an Epic EHR.

"Technology has always been fun for me, and early on I really appreciated the impact it could have to improve the way we deliver care," he said.

While not many CIOs got their start in the pharmacy, Dr. Kwiatkowski sees it as a natural fit.

"Pharmacists have been a little ahead of the curve, historically, in adopting information technology," he said. "Pharmacists are wired in a way — in their DNA so to speak — with tendencies toward precision, accuracy, logic and safety. And I think that translates well to IT — particularly around safety: understanding that the little things we do can have intended and unintended consequences."

Using tech to help patients, staff

Dr. Kwiatkowski has been working to improve the digital patient experience at Cedars-Sinai through initiatives like electronic consent, online scheduling and virtual visits.

"We've got world-class technology and capabilities here, but that doesn't stop us from continuing to ask ourselves: How do we continue to optimize and improve upon the patient care experience? How can we reduce friction? How can we make things easier along all steps of the patient care journey?" he said.

He also wants to use technology to take pressure off staff. For instance, Cedar-Sinai has robots that deliver specimens and supplies to ease the workload on nurses. It also uses radio frequency identification tools to track devices and equipment and is working to boost enterprise resource planning so providers can focus more on patient care.

"How can we simplify processes for finance? How can we simplify processes and improve efficiencies around supply chain? How do we modernize human resource processes and improve the employee experience?" he asked. "The core focus really is around people. How do we make things better for our patients and staff?

He said his proudest recent innovation is the integration of infusion pumps with the EHR, to share data automatically from the medical devices.

"It really checked a lot of boxes for me, and not just for me, but certainly for the organization, in terms of quality, safety and efficiency," he said.

But he added: "With all of the new and exciting technologies we're implementing, all the ways we're innovating, we can't lose sight of one of our core responsibilities, which really are focusing on risk, resilience and technology platforms' availability and reliability. We'll be judged certainly by how well we maintain the foundation as well."

How IT can meet economic challenges, innovate

Dr. Kwiatkowski said IT can help alleviate some of the economic pressures brought about by inflation and turbulent market conditions through process automation and AI analytics.

"Inflation is, of course, not new to healthcare, but it forces us to continue to critically examine the work we do and where investments are made," he said.

He said he sees healthcare technology becoming more concentrated to improve agility, scale, speed and security, as health systems streamline applications and consolidate legacy systems.

"I also think that some of the advances in computational biomedicine and bioinformatics, AI, advanced analytics will be the future in health IT that pays dividends most quickly," he said. "Data is accumulating at an astonishing pace, and that, combined with hopefully more interoperable systems, really can have the potential to be incredibly powerful. And there's been much recently about how AI continues to lag in healthcare, but I think we're on the cusp of a transformative time period."

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