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The big 2021 tech investments for 5 health system CIOs


Health systems plan continued investment in IT infrastructure, cybersecurity, analytics platforms and digital health in the coming year.

Despite continued uncertainty due to the pandemic, several large health systems aim to boost virtual health capabilities and further roll out clinical and operational technologies with the dual goal of delivering better, more coordinated care while also being mindful of the overall enterprise budget.

Here, five CIOs outline their big investment plans for the coming year:

Michael Pfeffer, MD. Assistant Vice Chancellor and CIO of UCLA Health: I really think investment in our cloud-based research platforms around high performance computing, artificial intelligence and the machine learning toolkits and integrating them back into our EHR is really key. We are continuing to invest heavily in that from a cost and resource standpoint. We are incorporating our EHR data with genomics data and other kinds of data, such as real-time wait forms and radiological images. All of these things are so critical to our research mission and improving patient care — that translational aspect of taking research-derived algorithms or other types of technologies and applying that into the operations and patient care delivery aspects of what we do — that is a real area of investment for 2021.

We are also really thinking about communication. This idea of unified communication is important — how care providers communicate with each other and the patient, and how researchers, educators communicate in the new world we see ourselves in. We are investing in those types of technologies.

Then really I think it’s not so much going out and purchasing technology per se, but investment in equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives both within our IT organization and with our patients. We’re looking at health disparities, understanding what tools and optimization opportunities there are in our EHR to enable and improve this, looking at how telehealth tools are being used, and thinking about the IT organization and how to continue to mentor and increase diversity. We want to increase the number of people interested in healthcare IT, which is such an amazing field. We’re doing a lot of work on that; we have invested a lot already this year and will continue to do that in 2021.

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There is no shortage of work that needs to be done. It’s fun to be on the health IT side because you get to work across many aspects of the organization to help enable these ideas.

Listen to the full Becker’s Healthcare Podcast episode featuring Dr. Pfeffer here.

Ray Gensinger, MD. CIO of Hospital Sisters Health System (Springfield, Ill.): Resources are both the dollars and the people. I really think that through the course of this year, anything and everything COVID-19-related will be job No. 1 until we get to the other side of this pandemic. But after that, I really think the digital strategy and digital service delivery is going to need investment. Analytics is going to be a place where we have to continue to grow and invest.

Sadly, information security will suck up more dollars as we need to protect ourselves more from the bad actors out there. Finally, tied to the digital strategy is [meeting] the interoperability requirements out there and ensuring that the patients and other care providers have the ability to effectively move the needed data and content back and forth among ourselves so we can all do the best that we can to provide care for the patients.

Listen to the full Becker’s Healthcare Podcast episode featuring Dr. Gensinger here.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior vice president and CIO of Seattle Children’s: Certainly from an IT perspective, we will continue to invest in infrastructure. We are going to see a massive investment in licensing because of remote working. From a clinical perspective, we recently did a Cerner to Epic conversion during the pandemic. We went live with that on Oct. 3, and [we are] stabilizing that rollout. We were the first to deliver 100 percent virtual training for 13,000 people, so that was a learning experience for us.

As soon as we have stabilized our Epic infrastructure, our plan is to start a rollout of a replacement to our enterprise resource planning system. Our current system has been in our business for over 10 years and needs a full-scale replacement. That is the next major project we continue to work through.

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We are also going to make massive investments in the predictive analytics space. We already have a strong analytics function — we are a HIMSS stage 7 analytics site — but what I’m saying is [there will be] more demand for clinical analytics and more demand for a new space in analytics around building management systems. I’m employing artificial intelligence tools to help us take a look at our building systems, help us predict when a device needs a new filter or when the device system needs a service, which are all things that need to happen to keep environments safe and clean of infectious agents.

Listen to the full Becker’s Healthcare Podcast episode featuring Dr. Chaudry here.

Michael Elley. CIO of Baptist Health (Little Rock, Ark.): I see three things, potentially a fourth, that we are really going to be focused on. We are moving pretty quickly to enhance our security posture across the organization. We have implemented some things in the past six months and are going further down that hole over the next 12 to 18 months of improving our position on the cybersecurity front.

Telehealth is going to be a large focus for us on the inpatient side. We are already pretty robust and doing a good job on the ambulatory side, but we are heavily investing into a product that we are going to deploy at all of our hospitals, [coronary care units] and [intensive care units] and all of our ERs which will allow our clinicians to remote in, manage the cameras, interact with the patient, [and] pull in the patients’ family and loved ones. We all have different visitor policies today, and it’s making it difficult for communication with the families. That is going to be pretty large for us; it’s well into the seven-figure investment.

Third, we are going to continue to expand and standardize around some specific areas of the organization in regard to Epic. We weren’t on the Epic oncology module, and we are about to deploy that out as we grow our oncology business. Those are all large efforts for the IT teams and operationally.

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I spoke to a fourth item, which is potentially things around voice and the expansion of voice technology within our clinics is something we are evaluating as well.

Listen to the full Becker’s Healthcare Podcast episode featuring Mr. Elley here.

Craig Richardville. Senior Vice President and Chief Information and Digital Officer at SCL Health (Broomfield, Colo.): The IT investments that we plan on looking at are the continuing optimization efforts we have of our current investments. For the most part, as an industry we have installed, implemented, but we haven’t fully taken advantage of the assets that we invested in. To be good stewards of our money and make sure we get all the juice out of the squeeze, we need to make sure we continue with IT optimization efforts.

If you look at the IT investments, we certainly need to advance our innovation thinking to imitate best practices, to continue to take advantage of transformational opportunities. A lot of that will move around the buzz words out there, so when you look at things like artificial intelligence and machine learning, the development of a digital workforce, using data for decision-making, all those different pieces we will be investing in to make sure this digital transformation that we are all going through does drive our decision-making by using the data we are creating.

We also need to simplify the access to our health services with a digital front door for our consumers and for our patients to allow people to have access to our excellent health services.

Listen to the full Becker’s Healthcare Podcast episode featuring Mr. Richardville here.

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