Mar 08 2022

ViVE 2022: How Healthcare Can Maintain Digital Health Success into 2022

Healthcare IT leaders discuss the future of digital accelerations, workforce challenges and cybersecurity.

Healthcare organizations have implemented digital health tools such as telehealth and remote work technologies to adapt to changes brought on by the pandemic. Two years in, healthcare IT leaders are reassessing their technology strategies and looking for ways to maintain the success of these digital transformations into the future.

During a ViVE 2022 session titled “The CIO View in 2022,” moderated by Andy Crowder, senior vice president and chief information and analytics officer at Atrium Health, healthcare IT leaders discussed opportunities and challenges facing healthcare organizations in 2022 in the areas of digital acceleration, staffing and cybersecurity.

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What’s Next for Digital Acceleration in Healthcare?

For many years, the electronic health record has been considered the center of healthcare, but that’s starting to change.

“What we’re finding is that we all need that core technology, and it’s certainly going to sit at the center, but a lot is happening in the patient-facing side and how people engage in their own healthcare,” said Dr. Stephanie Lahr, CIO and chief medical information officer at Monument Health. “We’re really going to have to look at other tools, and probably the most exciting thing is that it feels like those tools are finally ready for prime time. We’re seeing developments in automation and ambient technologies that can really help our clinicians deliver care and our patients be engaged in it.”

Lahr explained that the reality for many years was that technology was seen as a burden for many in healthcare, but that’s starting to change across the board, for everything from care delivery and decision support to revenue cycle management.

During the pandemic, Dr. Zafar Chaudry, senior vice president and chief digital and information officer at Seattle Children’s, said his organization saw a heightened level of digital acceleration among both clinicians and patients, but in pediatrics he and his colleagues noticed a level of inequity that hadn’t come to light before.

“Not all of our patients have access to hardware and the right internet connections,” he said, adding that addressing the problem required out-of-the-box thinking, such as creating a loaner program for devices.

MORE FROM VIVE: Learn how to make value-based care a widespread reality in healthcare.

How Healthcare IT Teams Can Overcome Workforce Shortages

Clinician and support staff shortages have created challenges for healthcare organizations across the U.S. This, coupled with a large percentage of employees working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic, has forced healthcare leaders to approach their employees in new ways.

Chaudry explained that 80 percent of his staff works from home, and many of those employees don’t have adequate space or are juggling work with homeschooling their children, caring for pets and nursing loved ones.

“There’s high productivity from people working from home, but we’ve seen a large challenge with human interaction,” he said. “Many IT professionals are introverts, but they still need a level of human interaction. Leadership has had to change how they check in with teams since you can’t just stop by someone’s cubicle while at work.”

A major challenge he’s noticed is that people easily take on more work but are hesitant to let leadership know when they need help or support.

“We’ve been looking at how we can engage people in a different fashion,” said Chaudry, adding that he’s had to share his own feelings to get people to open up about theirs.

ViVE Panel

Healthcare CIOs discuss the digital health landscape and how to overcome workforce and cybersecurity challenges at ViVE 2022. (From left: Dr. Zafar Chaudry, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at Seattle Children’s; Dr. Angela Duncan Diop, Vice President of Information Systems, Unity Health Care; Dr. Stephanie Lahr, CIO and CMIO at Monument Health; and Andy Crowder, Senior Vice President and Chief Information and Analytics Officer at Atrium Health.)

Having conversations with chief nursing officers or physician leaders is one way to address those issues, said Lahr.

Dr. Angela Duncan Diop, vice president of information systems at Unity Health Care, said her organization has changed the way it does business to address burnout. People haven’t been able to do the things they used to do for the past two years. To refresh its employees, Unity Health Care sends them to in-person training sessions.

Lahr explained that digital transformation is key to attracting and retaining employees. Healthcare organizations should use tools such as automation to reduce friction and make workflows easier for clinicians so they choose to stay, she said.

“Having people work from home is one thing, but creativity in this space is going to be about a lot more than where you work. We’re going to have to start thinking about when people work, how long people work and the kind of work they do,” she said. “How do we take the high-friction, frustrating elements of the work people are doing and leverage technology to improve the situation?”

All industries are competing for IT talent. To address this, Diop said Unity Health Care has focused on hiring core and generalist IT employees, strategically outsourcing the more technical roles where needed. Her organization attracts IT talent by creating a sense of mission.

Chaudry agreed that healthcare IT teams will need to embrace more managed services and partnerships.

Training Is Key to a Strong Cybersecurity Program in Healthcare

As cyberthreats continue to evolve, healthcare has become a major target due its wealth of sensitive protected health information. Security assessments and consistent training are necessary for healthcare organizations to mitigate the impact of these threats.

“What we’ve done is hit the core things hard, such as undergoing ransomware assessments,” said Diop. “We’ve also done a lot with security awareness and our staff.”

She explained that with many employees working remotely, training has been vital. She also recommended that healthcare IT teams sit down with their cyber insurance underwriters early.

“Our biggest threats, as with most organizations, are our own people. We’ve made security training mandatory,” added Chaudry.

RELATED: Find out 8 ways to create a strong security culture in healthcare.

Seattle Children’s sends out fake phishing emails to test its employees as part of that training. His team also rounds with teams to ensure the security culture is strong.

Lahr said that collaboration, especially with general counsel, is also important for effective cybersecurity.

“It’s an area of collaboration that really has become important because I don’t have all the answers and neither do they,” she said.

Keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing virtual coverage of ViVE 2022, which takes place March 6-9, 2022, virtually and in person in Miami Beach, Fla. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #ViVE2022.

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