How University Hospitals amplifies its innovation strategy

David Sylvan, University Hospitals' new chief strategy and innovation officer, said health systems cannot think about innovation in a vacuum. Rather, they must think about when and how innovation has the ability to solve their organization's most pressing needs.

Mr. Sylvan was appointed to take on the role after Paul Tait retired in September. He holds this position as well as one in the health system's venture capital arm, UH Ventures, where he serves as president.

Becker's spoke to Mr. Sylvan about his new role, emerging technologies he has his eyes on and about the Cleveland-based health system's transition to Epic, a process that converted 5.6 million patient records and scheduling systems into one EHR.

Question: What are some of the primary responsibilities and objectives you're looking to tackle in your new role?

David Sylvan: One of the primary motivations of why I was considered for the role is that I've been leading our innovation and venture arm for quite a while. I think what appealed was this ability to think about the process discipline that we've used to drive innovation, both internally sourced and those innovations attracted from the outside in.

I'll continue to use that process discipline to identify, source and prioritize pathways to amplify University Hospitals' strategic imperatives. 

Q: University Hospitals just completed its move to Epic. How do you think the EHR can facilitate and support innovation at University Hospitals?

DS: We're extremely excited about the new functionality that Epic is going to bring, specifically when it comes to facilitating access.

As only one example, with the new system we will be able to identify gaps in schedules and create opportunities for accelerated appointment scheduling. We will also be able to glean data and insights to be able to identify pockets of opportunity for process improvements and reveal areas to perhaps redeploy human and capital assets by virtue of opportunities to optimize.

Q: How does your organization prioritize innovation in healthcare, and what strategies do you employ to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving industry?

DS: We start from the perspective of not looking to solutions in a vacuum. We start with the identification of problems, high-value problems, and we place a lot of articulation around those problems. And only then do we consider what we're assessing as a potential true solution.

We also consider the build, buy, partner continuum. But we have to start with what we've identified as critical and important to our system in order to contemplate any of that.

Q: What emerging trends or technologies in healthcare are you focused on, and how do you see them impacting the industry in the near future?

DS: As one example, we want to create discipline and governance around how we think about generative AI. We certainly know that the tool and all of its features will bring tremendous benefits and opportunities, but the risks have to be governed in a tight and measurable construct. We can't be porous as an institution when it comes to the adoption of tools and technologies that might expose us to risk. 

By the same token, we want to put ourselves in a position where we are availing ourselves of what is potentially cutting edge and transformative. So, we have embarked upon a process to design our governance and decisioning while simultaneously building the education around terminology sets to make sure that everyone's saying the same thing when they think about the likes of large language models or generative AI.

Q: What is your vision for the future of healthcare innovation?

DS: We're not having a great time in healthcare. As you know, there are tremendous headwinds, but these times also create incredible opportunities for us to rethink our operating model, to rethink how we can adjust our relationships with payers and our relationships with our patients and caregivers. That's what excites me in terms of the future for innovation at University Hospitals. 

Innovation is a lifeblood. If we don't continue to relentlessly innovate, it could imply an existential risk. When you're faced with challenges and problems, new opportunities spawn.

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