Surviving the Risks While Diagnosing Innovation

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Healthcare executives are embracing digital innovation, even with all the challenges it brings.

By Stefanie McCann, Editor, Connected Futures

It’s no longer hype. Digital saves lives.

Dr. Shafiq Rab, VP and CIO for Hackensack University Health Network, sees digital as a defining time in the healthcare industry.

He considers Galileo looking up at the universe through a telescope to be the first window that opened the eyes of human beings. Louis Pasteur opened the second window when he looked down at germs and mapped them to disease.

“We are living in an age of the third window,” Rab proclaims. “The third window is about information so that we can understand ourselves. We can have prevention. We can have wellness. We can have long, happy lives.”

It’s that passion of healthcare executives that is allowing the industry to begin innovating with digital, even with all the challenges it brings.

“Technology innovation is a prerequisite to survival in the white waters that we're in today,” says Patrick Hale, EVP and CIO for VITAS Healthcare, the largest provider of hospice services in the United States.

“When you're in the white water, it's exhilarating. It's exciting. It's fun. But it's dangerous,” Hale continues.

This excitement is breathing life into healthcare providers, inspiring them to transform their industry by way of technology.

“Digitalization in healthcare means giving access to patients,” says Roy Sookhoo, CTO and VP, Ochsner Health System.

He explains how that translates into allowing patients to use their devices and their wearables to “connect to the providers and physicians anywhere in the world and collaborate with them to live healthier lives.”

It’s healthier living that is causing healthcare executives to tolerate risk and do what is necessary to bring digital to their organizations, their patients, and their healthcare professionals.

Executives can’t turn a blind eye to those risks, which of course include information security. “I think the whole security threat in the last five years has been because we went from paper to electronic,” says Will Hatcher, chief security officer (CSO) at Ochsner.

You have to be prepared. According to Hatcher, “Segmentation is one way to prevent future attacks rather than just responding to them. With attacks you want to be able to prevent, detect, and then respond.”

It’s not only security threats plaguing these organizations. It’s the rate at which organizations need to respond.

“The pace of innovation isn't going to change tomorrow,” warns Hale. “We have to keep pace while our organizations focus on delivering care at the bedside, because that's the most important thing.”

In addition to technology and the pace of change, healthcare executives need to keep their fingers on the pulse of their individual roles within the organization. Especially at the C-level.

“In IT, our partnership is with the CEOs, CFOs, COOs. They are partners because they are the ones who are seeing the problems at the frontline,” says Sookhoo.

“They know the problems. They define the problems. As IT executives, we work with the C-level to bring solutions to their problems,” he continues.

Hackensack’s Rab sees the role of the CIO as providing critical thinking, data, and information that is aligned to the business goals.  He sees alignment as mandatory for driving innovation. “If the CEO's business goals and the CIO are not aligned, that’s not good,” he says.

According to Rab, the CIO controls the single most important thing: information.

“Imagine an app that tells a patient who is asthmatic the moment they get up: ‘Did you order your Singulair? If you did not, can I call your pharmacy on your behalf? You can pick it up between 2:00 and 3:00 because your calendar is open.’”

Rab goes on to describe a scenario where the app tells you which route to take depending on your health condition. “Don't take I-80, take I-287 because I-80 has a vehicle that is disabled and there is a lot of traffic with a lot of fumes, which may trigger your attack.”

With passion in his voice, Rab says, “Imagine that patient's feeling and the loyalty towards that institution.”

He continues, “But in return, what are you doing? You are doing the right thing for your community, for the patient.”

Not only are healthcare executives looking internally to solve problems, they are also taking a peek at what other industries are doing with technology. They are being inspired by other industries and bringing those ideas into their own organizations.

For Sookhoo, for example, the concept of Airbnb, Inc. is something he’d like to learn from.

“Their customers have access to several hundred hotel rooms. In healthcare, we need to give our patients access to care where they feel comfortable getting it.”

He even sees Uber as another example.

“We need to put patients back in control, and that's what Uber did for the taxi industry.  The taxi riders are in control of their ride. There's a price transparency. I think we in healthcare need to provide price transparency to our patients so they know what they're paying for. And use the simplicity of technology to help them gain access,” says Sookhoo.

Even through their innovation and ideas, these executives have not lost sight of what is most important. As Rab states, “If you ask anybody in my team, ‘What do you do?’ They will say, ‘We save lives.’ That's what we do. That's our job. That's our life.”

In an era of rising expectations, healthcare delivery requires a fresh approach. And being connected is a major step to new efficiencies and improved patient outcomes.
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