Digital TransformationHealthcare Analytics

Innovation in the Crucible of Crisis

By Kerri Webster, VP/Chief Analytics Officer, Children’s Hospital Colorado

It is simply not possible in today’s world to talk about technology and healthcare without playing the acronym Scrabble or buzzword Bingo – AI, ML, RPA, NLP, Digital Transformation, Cyber Security, Blockchain, Interoperability, Chat Bots, Predictive Models, and the list goes on. Since the rules that govern these games change daily, there is no clear winner. It can be overwhelming to think about these emerging technologies when deciding what to spend time and money to implement. Back when things were ‘normal’, analytics and IT executives had the luxury of mapping out a long-term strategy, planning for capital, and building a technology and talent portfolio to support that strategy. While a high-stakes endeavor to be sure, there was not an innovation imperative that required lightning-quick decisions and implementations. We are now entering a new normal where this paradigm has shifted. The pressures of a global pandemic, supply chain disruptions, staffing shortages and capacity constraints have provided a sense of urgency to innovate. Now more than ever, we need to leverage emerging technologies to augment human decision-making, automate manual tasks and connect data sources. Traditionally behind the innovation curve, healthcare is playing catch-up. While it can be daunting to deploy, I would ask what better time than now to implement innovative tools to help support our patients and caregivers? But how do you choose which technology? How do you create and sustain a culture of adoption? How do you ensure the valuable resources: money, time, and talent you spend on these technologies will ultimately provide the outcome you desire?

In our organization, we’ve been able to use the innovation imperative to advance new technology initiatives in record time.

Here are some recommendations for implementing new, innovative technologies during this challenging and disruptive time:

  • Begin with the problem itself. What exactly is the problem you are trying to solve?
    • Understanding the problem, the cause, and how you would measure successful resolution is key
  • Ask important questions 
    • How will technology solve this problem?
      • What specific technology is needed?
    • What barriers will there be to adoption?
    • Will the support needed for this technology outweigh the benefits?
  • Stay true to organizational and divisional long-term vision
    • Ensure executive alignment with new projects
  • Be open-minded and flexible
    • What worked in the past may not work now
    • Think outside of the box
  • Tap into existing resources
    • Current vendors may be willing to partner to enhance their products with little cost
    • Team members may have creative ideas to innovate internally
  • Take advantage of the urgency of the situation to implement quickly
    • Adopt rapid decision-making processes
    • Utilize existing culture and guiding principles to inform choices
  • Partner with operational and strategic leaders to align on objectives
    • Create excitement with the why
    • Ensure alignment with budget constraints – have a solid ROI
  • Communicate effectively
    • Target audiences for biggest impact
    • Consider alternate forms of communication such as presentations at meetings or drop-in networking in place of e-mails and newsletters
  • Avoid the traps 
    • Don’t implement technology for technology’s sake
      • Many times, people hear of or see a new technology and want to implement it because everyone else has it
    • Don’t believe everything you hear from vendors
      • Ask for evidence – consider doing a pilot or proof of concept before you spend
      • Carefully vet references – use your network and not just vendor recommendations
    • Don’t throw technology at process problems
      • Technology can’t solve deeply rooted process problems
      • Ask the question, how did we get here?
    • Avoid analysis paralysis
      • Be willing to make calculated mistakes and learn from them

I believe the current landscape is the crucible of crisis. A crisis that provided the opportunity to leapfrog outdated practice and process and replace with advanced technologies that make a difference. In our organization, we’ve been able to use the innovation imperative to advance new technology initiatives in record time. We have been able to rapidly scale up our predictive analytics capability to support our clinicians with accurate census forecasting. We have been able to partner with our supply chain department to help predict PPE needs. We have supported our nursing and facilities divisions with real-time alerting for air-flow monitoring. We have transformed manual process to automate submission of data to the State. We are in process of deployment of NLP/AI technology to support registry submission. Ultimately, we were able to take advantage of the urgency of opportunity to deploy meaningful innovations to support our patients and caregivers. The ability to leverage these tools has enabled us to shift from a traditional transactional model to a partnership-based solution delivery model. 

Healthcare is now positioned to be at the leading edge of technology innovation. Much of this is driven by external forces. If we do not respond with a sense of urgency to innovate and implement, we put our patients and entire workforce at risk. It is my hope that we can continue to ride the wave of this innovation imperative to continue to drive business transformation, improve care, increase efficiency, make smart decisions and reduce cost. If now is the time, the question that remains is how? My answer is that we will do this with the same care and consideration we use when at the bedside. We will assess the situation, identify the problem, leverage a multidisciplinary approach and judiciously select the right tools to address critical needs. 

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