Balancing the Need for Transparency and Open Access to Sensitive Information

Philip Loftus, SVP IT & CIO, SSM Health
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Philip Loftus, SVP IT & CIO, SSM Health

Philip Loftus, SVP IT & CIO, SSM Health

1) What do you see as a big challenge in technology to meet the challenges of your industry? If you were to write down a wish list, what solutions do you look forward to and your expectations from technology providers for the enterprise?

The biggest technical challenge in the healthcare provider industry is balancing the need for transparency and open access to information, with the need to protect sensitive health, financial and personal information. In terms of a wish list, here’s my thoughts:

• The general availability of two-factor authentication on desktop and mobile devices that can be used both for user authentication and delivering secure encrypted communication to caregivers, patients, and family.

• Voice recognition would greatly simplify the ability of patients, family and the public to communicate with us and electronically conduct key transactions, such as paying bills, making appointments, and communicating with care teams.

•Artificial intelligence (AI) systems to provide clinical data support—based on analysis of the electronic health record (EHR) and best practices—offering real-time clinical decision making support to physicians and care teams.

2) Organizations have to integrate data across the enterprise to have a 360-degree view of the customer, but it’s not an easy thing to do. What are your thoughts on getting this act right?

Data integration in healthcare is a major challenge. While EHR systems are getting better at sharing information, the limitations are such that we’re in the process of merging our three Epic EHR platforms, despite the fact that it’s an expensive, time-consuming and technically challenging task.

The other need is for improved healthcare communication and information exchange standards, many of which have been around in similar forms for more than a decade. For example, Health Level 7 (HL7) standards, which were developed by an organization founded in 1987, is still one of the primary data sharing mechanisms. In addition, EHRs still share information primarily using continuity of care documents, which can be slow and cumbersome.

Universal multifactor authentication and encryption systems are also needed to ensure adequate compliance with the growing number of data security and privacy requirements.

3) What specific types of technology will give leaders/players within your industry the competitive edge?

The winners in this game will have a number of key attributes.

• They will have standardized systems based on a combination of evidence and best practice procedures that are used system wide.

• Recognizing that they are often data rich and information poor they will streamline their systems making them simpler and more intuitive to use, avoiding unnecessary collection of data.

• Their systems will be integrated across the full continuum of care from hospital and ambulatory, to home care and hospice, and rehab, skilled nursing facilities and long term nursing homes. This is likely to be through the use of strategic partnerships with agreed ways of sharing key patient information between them.

4) Despite the advancement in technology and availability of some cool technology solutions, there isn’t a day when we can say ‘all is fine.’ There are several pain points within the enterprise for which solutions do not exist yet. In your business environment what are some of the solutions which are not available or not up to the mark and if available, would have made your job easier. Can you share 1-2 things on what keeps you awake at night?

Areas of strategic opportunity where the technology is not yet mature enough to fully support healthcare’s extremely broad range of users—that is, patients, caregivers, providers, insurers, etc.— include AI, voice recognition, and natural language processing.

5) There are several technology trends which you perhaps would be observing (big data, social media, mobile, cloud, IoT). Can you share with us 1-2 trends that will have significant impact on your enterprise business environment and your industry.

• Population health management is the future business model for healthcare. Consequently, establishing a flexible and scalable IT platform to support population health is critical to future success.

• With the consumerization of healthcare, developing a more retail-oriented delivery of healthcare services also is a key requirement for future success. That will require a fundamental change in the thinking and operations of healthcare providers.

6) Can you illustrate how technology is revolutionizing than ever thought before in 1-2 business segments in your work environment and is so critical for your business to succeed.

• Patient access, the ability for new and existing patients to obtain online real or virtual appointments, preferably same day or next day, is one of the key requirements specified by patients.

• Centralized call centers available 24x7x365 providing patients with a single number to call, covering both clinic and hospital outpatient appointments, is another key patient requirement.

• Diagnostic imaging has improved to a level where it can often eliminate the need for biopsies or other invasive procedures. In addition, enhanced imaging technologies can detect smaller abnormalities and significantly reduce the number of false positives, enhancing the patient experience.

7) How is the role of IT changing at your company, and, with it, your role as CIO/CXO?

IT has moved from being a support function to a strategic business partner reporting to the CEO and responsible for the innovative use of IT that’s based on the business strategies, goals and priorities of the organization.

8) What is the best example of IT’s new role at your company? Can you share on some of the things you have done in driving process transformation efforts—while tuning and elevating IT’s relationship with the business.

Some key examples are:

• The move to a single EHR is key to supporting patients across the full continuum of care so that they always receive the best treatment, based on their full medical history accessed from anywhere in the system.

• Our new population health management platform is key to understanding the history and risk of patient populations. More specifically, it’s critical in managing patient populations by evaluating risk and pricing; tracking performance against key financial and clinical requirements; and, in the process, maintaining or enhancing patient outcomes.

• Providing remote specialist tele-consultations to patients in rural hospitals and clinics provides them with the same level of expertise that we have in our major medical centers without the need for extensive travel.

9) When it comes to security, how significant is the role of a CIO/CXO or CISO as an ombudsman between IT and business? As security issues gradually start demanding full time attention, do you think that it is time to hand over security completely to a CSO?

We see IT security as a shared responsibility encompassing the Board, the CEO and business leadership in addition to the CIO and CISO. The CISO plays an important and growing role but everyone in IT has a part to play. Given our vision that IT security is everyone’s responsibility and that IT security issues always have both an IT and a business component, we will likely not be moving security to a CSO in the near future.

10) A final question, what’s your advice to a CIO/CXO starting out in your industry?

This is a very exciting time to be in healthcare as the industry is undergoing profound and fundamental change on multiple fronts. Virtually all of these changes rely on and can be facilitated by IT. So, for someone who wants to work in close partnership with business leadership, and help drive transformational change, today’s healthcare environment truly provides a unique and challenging opportunity.

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