Hospitals 'innovate aggressively' to stay relevant

Hospitals will likely look very different a decade from today as more brick-and-mortar institutions embrace virtual care, "hospital at home" and remote patient monitoring. CIOs are at the forefront of reimagining healthcare delivery focused on consumers.

"It took us hundreds of years to build a healthcare system, whether you think it's good or not, and we're looking to potentially build an entirely separate healthcare system," said William Carracino, MD, chief medical informatics officer at Lee Health in Fort Myers, Fla. "The hospital of the future is going to be cloud-based, and the points of connection to brick-and-mortar hospitals are going to be complicated surgeries, intensive care units and morgues. When you think about it, everything else can be done at home."

The healthcare industry is primed for disruption, with billions of dollars spent on care today. Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product is now in healthcare, making it a huge market for nontraditional players like CVS Health, Amazon, Walgreens and more to partner with or to offer digital care delivery technologies.

"There is also a lot of activity in the market for new types of nontraditional players coming in, and the whole nature of how care is delivered is changing," said Sara Vaezy, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Renton, Wash.-based Providence. "There are lots of consumer-facing offerings out there. It's really important to continue to innovate aggressively around that domain and figure out ways by which we can remain relevant for consumers."

Consumerization of healthcare isn't unique for urban areas or big health systems. Across the board, healthcare providers are being pushed to rethink and modernize care delivery processes, especially in primary care.

"The largest volume of services is in primary care," said Darrell Bodnar, CIO of North Country Healthcare in Lancaster, N.H. "That makes me a little nervous, but also sets the tone. When you look at Amazon, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS Health, all these companies are partnering or buying cutting-edge technologies to deliver care."

With these companies thinking differently about healthcare delivery, more care is shifting to home care, data collection from consumer wearables and remote patient-monitoring. Mr. Bodnar said wearable devices are really influencing the way care is delivered for many patients.

"Here in North Country Healthcare, we have a large area of primary care, and telehealth and virtual care platforms are going to continue to grow," he said. "Consumerism is going to demand it."

But digital transformation and developing a data ecosystem is easier said than done. The business models are changing, and operations in most hospitals are convoluted.

"There is a lot of strategic value in doubling down on how we think about disruption as anything that is consumer-facing, because consumers have expectations," said Ms. Vaezy. "We've been talking about this for a long time; it isn't a novel concept. But consumer expectations are more advanced [and influence] where they get their care."

It's clear healthcare delivery needs to change, and data will be the fuel for delivering better, high value care. It's the "common currency" across the big trends in healthcare today, from precision medicine to virtual care, population health, operational efficiencies, automation and more. Hospitals and health systems are developing data ecosystems to generate solutions for big challenges in delivering care, especially on a tight budget and with workforce and supply shortages.

Brad Reimer, CIO of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health, said he believes data is the life blood of key initiatives, including interoperability, artificial intelligence and machine learning initiatives, that will all work together to provide better care and elevate the provider and patient experience.

"Providing a modern and adaptable data ecosystem is incredibly important as a huge need and opportunity for organizations to partner with health systems, universities and the third-party vendor market," said Mr. Reimer. "If we can crack the nut on how we build a modern data ecosystem for healthcare, it will truly revolutionize healthcare for our patients and our communities."

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