A look back on 2020: reshaping the healthcare IT landscape

A look back on 2020: reshaping the healthcare IT landscape

An unknown author commented that “if necessity is the mother of invention, desperation is its father.” As I reflect upon the year 2020, it is unequivocally highlighted and underscored as the most significant year in my lifetime thus far regarding the healthcare industry’s response to the desperation generated by the coronavirus.

In terms of the necessity of invention and attacking back on this viral threat from a technology perspective, innovative agility was relentlessly applied in such a short time frame, otherwise never imagined.

Many healthcare information services teams were quickly called to rise up to the occasion of supporting our caregivers and patients. Colleagues embraced an attitude of solidarity and embodied characteristics of being agile, pivoting at a moment’s notice, and maintaining resilience.

From transitioning an entire healthcare organization’s nonclinical staff to operate remotely, rapidly ramping up telemedicine, setting up patient testing sites, enabling hospital expansion, adapting the organization’s electronic health record to support the required clinical pathway adjustments, and everything in between, information services teams further elevated their role as a strategic partner for organizations throughout 2020. 

A key component of this partnership enhancement is the collaborative spirit that must exist within an organization’s culture.

For decades my leadership team has stressed the importance of melding together three key areas of focus, “people, process and technology,” in order to drive successful projects. Combining these disciplines together serves as a key driver of enabling innovation and technological advances. It’s the secret sauce.

For example, technology has advanced to support new methods of delivering care such as evolving telemedicine efforts. Yet, it took the desperation associated with a pandemic to bond like-minded team members to collaborate in order for telemedicine to become an innovative mainstay in the delivery of patient care.

The technology existed for many years, but organizations were slow to adopt this technology for a variety of reasons, including restrictions in reimbursement and lack of operational workflows.

The telemedicine scenario is just one example of the collaboration needed with information services to support an alternative method of delivering patient care.

In addition, significant emphasis was placed on driving significant efforts in data analytics, support of new COVID-19 testing platforms, surge planning, addressing employee safety and, most recently, supporting the rollout of multi-platform vaccinations that jettisoned information services into the center of innovating in desperate times.

In order to make these technologies a reality, it takes the energy and aptitude of people to orchestrate the outcomes, the process to set the cadence toward identified goals, and the right technology strategy, vendor partners and governance to achieve the means to the end.

Since my arrival to Penn Medicine in 2006 (back then we were known as the University of Pennsylvania Health System), I have always believed that our team should be “services” oriented and just not “systems/technology” oriented.

Our department name became Information Services by design in order to communicate our focus on support and collaboration. But our name is just not a symbol, it is our culture and drives much of our department’s behavior.

Such an example is our employee-recruiting efforts, which specifically seek candidates with operational background for the area(s) they are to support. For instance, we commonly seek those with nursing, pharmacy, revenue cycle and physician experience as part of our recruiting process. This operational experience allows for a deeper relationship and understanding with end users and significantly assists in overall system design and adoption.

One of the results of the pandemic was to cause a more enmeshed blend of “people, process and technology” to facilitate many of the industry breakthroughs that are now a reality. Now, our industry is poised for even greater innovative advancements.

Based upon the industry’s efforts in response to the desperate measures of the past year, we have proven that anything can be accomplished. All that is required is the collaborative spirit and the actions to adapt innovative processes and workflows.

The year 2021 can be the most exciting for the healthcare industry. Here’s hoping that our actions will be dictated by “assurance” rather than desperation.

Mike Restuccia is chief information officer of Penn Medicine.

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