What is the new reality for health system CIOs post-COVID? In February of 2020, CereCore surveyed CIOs through CHIME to identify top IT priorities and barriers to progress. With social distancing measures going into effect the month after, our organization has been actively listening to our hospital CIO peers and clients to understand shifts in priorities moving forward.
Add your voice to our LinkedIn poll. The February highlights included:
- Optimizing the EHR/EMR ranked as the top health IT priority. Telemedicine ranked a not-distant second.
- Operating cost pressure was by far the biggest barrier to making progress with health IT initiatives.
- The majority of responding CIOs reported they have not performed an application rationalization or vendor contract consolidation across the enterprise.
- And over one-third of CIOS had not considered using a managed service provider to address gaps in bandwidth or application support.
We’ve pooled the insights from client conversations and the CereCore CIO Cohort, a group of acting and consulting CIOs that collaborate on best practices, on “the COVID factor.”
Q: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the IT organization and how are CIOs addressing these challenges?
Data analytics have been predominantly retrospective at healthcare systems. We were not able to provide real-time prospective or predictive information about the anticipated influx of patients, nor utilize that data to deal with supply chain challenges such as PPE and ventilator shortages. We didn’t have the capacity in certain areas of the country to treat the patients and in the other areas, we had excess capacity, which has caused major financial strain.
In many cases, the telehealth infrastructure and applications were not ready to accommodate the sudden increase in needs. Systems were inundated with remote work, and we faced other capacity pressures on the IT infrastructure. Going forward, CIOs are preparing for these scenarios and are updating business continuity plans, reviewing remote access and networking capabilities, and working to improve predictive data analytics capabilities from their EHR platforms.
Q: How has your organization’s investment in technology changed as a result of the COVID pandemic?
We have already seen large investments in telehealth endpoint devices and related infrastructures such as networking and applications and cybersecurity. Our organizations are now talking more about digital transformation, which includes cloud migration and more patient-friendly digital engagement strategies. But we simply don’t have the budget to support all of these and still keep the lights on. As a result, we are evaluating staffing levels and looking at value-based contracts where we can achieve savings in the IT operational budgets. In regards to IT outsourcing, many CIOs are starting to seriously look at managed service providers for their application and other support needs – which allows them to scale up and down quickly to be able to accommodate these dramatic events or source technical specialists for project-based work. Finally, we see investments in the infrastructure and IT assets continuing as technology plays even a more prominent role in the future of healthcare- this includes investments in networking, endpoint devices, security protocols, and patch management to name a few.
Q: How will technology transform the patient experience post COVID?
Dramatically. First, the patient’s expectations have already changed. Many have embraced the convenience of telehealth visits for various personal reasons such as it requiring less time away from work, or it is more comfortable for patients with mobility or other issues. And throughout the pandemic, we’ve proven that routine doctor visits such as pre and post-op preparations can be easily done remotely. To meet these new expectations, healthcare organizations will have to fortify their network infrastructure and evaluate their patient’s access points. Also, some investments are needed in the security space to ensure these interactions are secure and meet regulatory requirements.
We also foresee an impact in the integration and interfaces to coordinate improved access to care across the continuum such as real-time interactions with specialists, labs, and other ancillary services.
The COVID Factor – A Catalyst for Positive Change
A common premise in the media is that many healthcare organizations may not survive the strain of COVID. However, the health system CIOs we’ve conversed with have been quick to point out that this does not mean that access or availability of care will diminish. Most believe that the pandemic has been a catalyst for improving patient access and quality of care. Indeed, the financially weak and poorly operated organizations will likely fold under the financial strain or be acquired by more stable operating companies – mirroring transformation patterns in other industries. Healthcare has been a laggard by comparison in its adoption of technology for transformation. This “Amazon Moment” is an opportunity for CIOs to shift from operational to strategic to take full advantage of their technological capabilities, modernize the use of EHR, extend access across their health networks, improve analytics, and control infrastructure costs through scalable and flexible managed services.