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Where 5 CIOs see IT innovation heading as pandemic winds down  

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The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a new normal for healthcare. Virtually every aspect of the industry has undergone some sort of change, including the IT innovation arena.

To get a better sense of where IT innovation is headed, we reached out to a few hospital CIOs. Here’s what they had to say.

For Steve Hess, CIO of Denver-based UCHealth, the next phase of IT innovation will focus on supporting at-home care.

Use of technologies and strategies considered innovative pre-pandemic, like virtual care and predictive analytics, took off amid the public health crisis with facilities implementing these capabilities in days versus months, he said in a phone interview. The pandemic allowed healthcare facilities to fast-track the innovation plans that had been sitting on their dockets.

Now that these strategies have more or less become the norm for many health systems, the focus is shifting to at-home care, Hess said. The pandemic spurred the need for delivering acute care at home as hospitals became Covid-19 hotspots.

“We’ve been doing virtual visits…but now we are trying to figure out how do you get blood drawn from somebody’s house? How do you do imaging studies from someone’s family room?” Hess said.

Essentially, IT innovation is now being driven by how and where people want to seek care, making certain services a necessity.

“Put simply, pre-Covid, innovation was driven by wants, or what can we do,” said David Colarusso, CIO of Dallas-based Steward Health Care, in an email. “Now, innovation is driven by what we need to do. How do we make it faster and easier for patients to connect with our doctors or to get their vaccine; or how do we allow our patients to simultaneously monitor patients [at] opposite ends of the hall in real-time.”

Telehealth is, of course, a prime example of that shift, moving from a nice-to-have for health systems to a need-to-have in a matter of weeks. For Steward, telemedicine is no longer a small component of its business but rather a critical aspect of patient experience moving forward, Colarusso said.

But to successfully cater to patient preferences and enable innovative care delivery, health systems need good data, which is another area ripe for IT innovation.

Health systems are seeing the need for data analytics that can help examine patient preferences and give them insights into how best to manage care delivery, said Hans Keil, senior vice president and CIO of Southfield, Michigan-based Beaumont Health, in a phone interview.

With tech giants like Amazon entering the market — who have the ability to slice and dice data — health systems need to be able to compete. This has led to the rise of unprecedented collaborations, like 14 health systems banding together to create Truveta, a data analytics company.

“All healthcare systems are thinking about what their data play is going to be,” Keil said.

Of course, not all drivers of innovation are patient-centric, with health facilities also looking to transform oft-ignored areas of operation.

For example, Palo Alto, California-based Stanford Children’s Health leveraged its innovation infrastructure to enhance its supply chain management, said Ed Kopetsky, senior vice president and CIO, in an email. The health system engaged new partners to manufacture and print personal protective equipment, which at one point during the pandemic was dangerously unattainable.

Now, the health system plans to incorporate new robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and radio frequency identification-based management to its supply chain operations, Kopetsky said.

“These are important for us to move toward the digital transformation and automate much of the manual work our supply chain department currently does,” he said.

Further, there are workforce operations that could use an innovative boost, said Suja Chandrasekaran, senior executive vice president and chief information and digital officer of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health.

First is the shift to remote work. Technologies and digital offerings that enable hybrid work environments are going to be a big focus as the U.S. enters a new phase of the pandemic, she said in an email.

The second is addressing the increasing levels of workforce burnout. Deploying automated technologies to support healthcare workers’ mental health will also drive IT innovation, she said.

“…the foundation to [innovation] is being human-centered,” Chandrasekaran said. “No innovation stands a chance of succeeding if it is not anchored on human needs.”

Photo: Peshkova, Getty Images

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