Balancing traditional healthcare operations with innovation is a challenge that leaders are experiencing industry wide. Health systems have always focused on providing efficient care to patients in their facilities. However, the changing landscape requires leadership to prioritize innovation and technology to improve processes and enhance patient care. Finding the right balance in priorities is essential to meet the needs of today’s healthcare consumers.
This article covers the complexities of balancing healthcare operations and innovation with insight from Jeff Sturman, SVP and Chief Digital Officer at Memorial Healthcare System, as featured in a recent episode of The Better Care Podcast.
Some quotes have been slightly edited for brevity.
Innovation vs Operations
Balancing digital innovation and daily operations in a hospital is a challenge, especially when faced with increasing costs and stagnant reimbursement rates. This balance reflects the reality that innovation is just one part of a multifaceted approach needed to run a health system. While focusing on new solutions and optimizing patient care for the future is crucial, it’s equally important to manage the existing systems and address immediate needs.
Jeff Sturman shared that at Memorial, a significant portion of the team’s efforts goes into maintaining and upgrading systems and ensuring compliance with regulations. The key is aligning every IT initiative with broader strategic goals to support the organization’s mission.
This balance isn’t solely about the importance of IT, but rather how technology initiatives directly impact clinical care, revenue, and business operations. Prioritizing these efforts while safeguarding infrastructure and security is essential, requiring a delicate equilibrium between long-term innovation and short-term operational demands.
“I wish there was a simple answer to this, and there isn’t. Everything is a balance. If I could focus on all innovation and thinking about the new and how we change, that would be my preference. But the reality is that’s probably less than fifty percent of what we do all day long. We’re putting out fires. We’re focused on optimizing and operationalizing the systems that we already have, and we’re also thinking about all the new things that we know we need to stay ahead of.” -Jeff Sturman
Prioritizing Projects in Health Systems
Maintaining this balance between operations and innovation in hospitals requires a structured process. Health systems often utilize clinical and business governance to ensure that prioritized projects align with their strategic goals.
This alignment is crucial, and projects not falling within this framework may receive less priority. This process helps manage the demands and priorities of projects in a health system. Jeff Sturman highlighted the following factors to consider when prioritizing projects in a health system.
- Priority Levels: Initiatives should be categorized into priority levels, including critical initiatives that are necessary to keep the health system running and others that are then ranked high, medium, or low priority.
- Setting Expectations: Set realistic expectations and timelines within teams with communication occurring on an ongoing basis.
- Executive Sponsorship: All initiatives must require an executive sponsor for ownership and progress.
- Constant Evaluation: Initiatives are continuously assessed and reevaluated every week to ensure impact and alignment with strategic objectives.
- Communication and Buy-In: Effective internal communication and engagement are essential for successful prioritization and internal buy-in.
Provider-Centric or Patient-Centric
In healthcare leadership communities, there is often a debate between provider-centric models vs patient-centric models. The focus is increasingly shifting towards being patient-centric, acknowledging that the goal is to deliver exceptional care and service to the patients and consumers. Jeff mentioned at Memorial, there is a conscious effort to invest significantly in improving the patient experience and reducing the burden on both patients and physicians. This investment is not just about benefiting stakeholders but about reimagining how healthcare is delivered.
The approach involves embracing innovations and digital capabilities to engage consumers more proactively, predict their needs, and guide them through the complex healthcare landscape. The goal is to empower patients to navigate and access healthcare services more easily, fostering a more patient-friendly, responsive, and efficient healthcare system.
“Expecting patients to simply come to us, I think is a really old way of thinking. We have to start reaching out to them, being proactive, predictive, and helping our consumers understand how to navigate healthcare and make it more accessible.” -Jeff Sturman
Utilizing Data for Decision-Making
Data plays a crucial role in healthcare, and using data for decision-making is becoming more important. Historically, the healthcare industry hasn’t fully utilized the available data. According to the World Economic Forum, hospitals produce 50 petabytes of siloed data per year – that’s equivalent to approximately 10 billion music files. Ninety-seven percent of this data goes unused.
But newer technology from vendors in the healthcare industry is changing. This shift towards data-driven management aims to improve both healthcare processes and patient care and outcomes.
“Everyone should be managing with analytics and data. I think as an industry, we have not been taking advantage of the data, the information that we have all at our fingertips, in a way that can really move the needle. And we’re finally getting there.“ -Jeff Sturman
IT Outsourcing vs. In-House Staff
The debate over IT outsourcing versus maintaining an in-house IT team is a challenge faced by many healthcare information professionals. Finding the right balance is essential for efficient IT resource management.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as it depends on various factors, such as organizational culture, specific IT needs, and budget. IT outsourcing can be beneficial for non-core functions, but it shouldn’t compromise quality or the organization’s unique IT requirements.
Leaders must carefully assess their IT needs, determine where outsourcing makes sense, and ensure that they have the right partners who understand the intricacies of the healthcare industry.
“I think you need to look at this from a multitude of perspectives, whether it be outsourcing, whether it be automation. Identify what tasks can be automated, starting with the simpler ones. And then determine where you should focus your internal resources.” -Jeff Sturman
CIO vs CDO
In healthcare, the roles of Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Digital Officer (CDO) can vary across organizations, and the distinctions are often shaped by the organization’s specific needs and goals. At Memorial, for example, Jeff shared that the shift from a traditional CIO to a CDO role occurred about three and a half years ago to modernize the thinking and strategy behind the CIO role.
This modernization extends beyond IT services and involves a broader focus on impacting patient care and the consumer experience. The CDO role at Memorial encompasses responsibilities for IT, biomedical engineering, clinical engineering, and even call centers, with a strong emphasis on modernizing not just technology but also processes, governance, and organizational culture to enhance healthcare delivery and consumer engagement.
The evolution of these roles reflects the need to adapt to new challenges and opportunities as an industry.
“IT sometimes is the easy part of this job. It’s the people. It’s the process. It’s thinking about culture impact and really making a difference in the way we evolve health care.” -Jeff Sturman
For the full interview with EvidenceCare’s COO, Amy Deaton, and Jeff Sturman, watch or listen to Episode 10 of The Better Care Podcast.