Intermountain CIO: 'IT has never been more relevant' than during COVID-19

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LAS VEGAS – The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of technology innovation, much of it aimed at delivering more seamless patient care.

And, healthcare leaders said at the HIMSS21 CIO Summit on Monday, understanding and operationalizing these emerging tools is key to staying nimble and efficient amidst an ever-changing industry.  

“I think we did more to usher in the age of digital healthcare during the first year of the pandemic than the prior 10 years combined,” said Ryan Smith, chief information officer of Intermountain Healthcare, during a session on the future of technology and healthcare.  

The question, Smith added, is how many of those gains will be preserved.  

All three CIOs in the session moderated by GAVS Technologies Chief Executive Officer Sumit Ganguli started their new roles during the pandemic – giving them a front-row seat to health systems’ changing needs in response to the coronavirus.  

One major challenge, said Smith, was patient access. Intermountain relied on its digital capabilities to get patients seen and their needs met.

“A lot had to evolve really rapidly,” he said: scaling services like telehealth under the time pressure COVID-19 posed.

At MedStar Health, meanwhile, CIO Scott MacLean said the organization needed to make hundreds of changes to its electronic health record as public health officials learned more about the disease.   

For instance, he said, his team had initially focused on installing temperature scans for patients to try and detect the disease before widespread testing was available – a tool that ended up declining in usefulness.  

“The COVID crisis was an accelerator,” said MacLean. MedStar, he said, was able to “pull together and serve communities.”  

For his part, Tim Skeen, CIO at Sentara Healthcare, said he was struck by how vigorously the IT team at his organization leapt to respond to the challenge.

“They united!” he said.

It made him wonder: “What could we do with project delivery if we had that mindset in a lot of the other things we did?”  

In terms of recent projects, MacLean reviewed a virtual reality initiative for training clinicians on Code Blue procedures at MedStar; Smith explained a consumer-oriented digital front door at Intermountain; and Skeen talked through the ways blockchain could be used to support different initiatives, such as interoperability.   

In the future, the CIOs predicted that changes will be driven by consumers looking to find the best healthcare value for their dollar.  

“We’re at an interesting pivot time,” said Skeen, with the healthcare price transparency rule “already causing lots of ripples in the ecosystem.”  

IT has always been important, said Smith, but COVID-19 really shone a spotlight on how crucial it is.  

“IT has never been more relevant to the healthcare industry than through the pandemic,” Smith said.

 

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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