CIO Panel Discussion: Impact of Data Integration in Healthcare

July 27, 2022

Last month, Strata’s Chief Strategy Officer, Steve Lefar, led a panel discussion with three CIOs from leading organizations across the Strata network, discussing the impact of data on decision making in healthcare. Read on to learn about their unique perspectives and the challenges faced by their organizations, as well as their thoughts on making data more accessible, using cloud-based technology, partnering with finance leaders and leveraging financial data to help teams make better decisions.  

The panelists include: 

The Role of Technology and Artificial Intelligence Investments in Solving Ongoing Staffing Challenges 

During the panel, all three CIOs shared their concerns about the ongoing staffing challenges they anticipate in the upcoming five years. They all also shared a focus on patient engagement and experience. These leaders agreed that the staffing challenges organizations have been facing present extra obstacles to providing outstanding care. As a result, leading organizations are now finding themselves investing in technology and artificial intelligence to automate internal tasks while having staff focus on other areas of their specialty. 

“Our leaders within our health systems are relying on technology in many ways to dig us out of this challenge,” said Dr. Priebe. “They let us look at different ways of managing our resources, while trying to get as many efficiencies as possible out of our electronic health records and other platforms of care.”  

Incorporating technology allows these healthcare organizations to allocate resources in the right areas. Automation allows them to shift their focus to engaging patients and providing a better patient experience.  

However, there are important considerations to implementing technology into the health system. Technology needs to be incorporated strategically to make sure it does not negatively impact the patient’s experience. Dr. Priebe shared how robotic process automations (RPAs) are strategically being incorporated into his organization. While testing RPAs in their setting, they learned that success is determined by the standardization of processes they are trying to automate.  

“A couple stumbles have been situations where we had a non-standardized process implement an automation. It failed because the people weren’t ready for this standardization; technology wasn’t really the issue,” said Priebe. “We’ve shifted to focus on lower risk back-office processes, things that may not interact with patients directly initially but can bring value to the organization through efficiency in time savings. We’re starting to see some gains there.”  

Deborah Heart and Lung Center is using RPAs to automate items within their revenue cycle to help them save money and time that can be allocated elsewhere. Temple shared his unique thoughts on RPAs. He and his organization view RPAs as new and young technology. Similar to Dr. Priebe, Temple is keeping automation away from patients. He is incorporating technology into back-office areas that allow his organization to be more efficient and provide better care for their patients. Although he agrees technology has a positive impact on healthcare, he won’t fully incorporate it into his organization until it is reliable and consistent 80-90 percent of the time.  

Dr. Rab shared his perspective on the topic, “What we have learned is that, if you know our workflow and processes and if you have standardized it, then digital technology can come in and automate it, and make it faster and better,” said Dr. Rab. “At the end, it is our people, our own standardization, that is key in this process. RPA is a good thing but only for things that can be automated.” 

Data Integration in Healthcare 

The demand for data within healthcare has seen a spike in recent years. With that in mind, we asked panelists about their strategy to bring in data from outside sources. All three panelists gave great insights into what their organizations have been doing to bring in data and leverage it for insights.  

Dr. Priebe said stakeholders within his organization very often ask for data, signaling that they are looking to make a decision and need data to back it up. Dr. Priebe’s first step is to make sure he understands what information his stakeholders are looking for. “It is easy to bring in boatloads of data but if we don’t understand what kind of information we are trying to get out of it then this data won’t be helpful,” said Priebe. Then they look at the elements of the data that are relevant and consumable to the decision making and deliver it to stakeholders.  

Temple had a different perspective. He says the following, 

“One of the things we try to do out of the box when we are trying to do detailed analytics across many different spectrums is making sure we are understanding how the data points are defined across each of the data sources that we have and try to standardize those. We try to standardize them on as few platforms as possible. The more platforms you have, the more opportunities you have for people to question the integrity of the data, as opposed to what the data is trying to tell you. It precludes you from being able to get actionable insights.”  

Leveraging Data and Analytics Tools 

Temple’s strategy to leverage data and analytics tools is to make sure the data and tools do not come from a large number of sources but limiting it to a smaller group. “Funnel it into as few sources as possible – that really is our strategy to be able to not have 98 different places where people are pulling data from,” said Temple. “Our goal is to keep it to be Strata as one of our sources. 

Dr. Rab shares what he and his team at Tufts Medicine do differently to leverage the 30-35 systems that they use. Just like other organizations, they have a Data Governance Committee and Data Council who make sure to clean the data. In the past, when trying to leverage different EHR systems, they found success in mapping the disparate systems from which they gather data. 

Using Cloud Vs. On-Prem Technology Solutions 

All three panelists shared their different points of view regarding on-premise versus cloud technologies. Across their answers, the panelists shared they had found success in migrating to the cloud, but had also experienced and overcome challenges.  

Due to being a smaller hospital and lacking the resources needed to implement the change, Deborah Heart and Lung Center does not leverage the cloud and is not considering making the shift. Temple shared that there are other areas the organization needs to focus on, with migrating to the cloud falling low on the priority list.  

Dr. Rab and Dr. Priebe both agree that going on the cloud is not an easy transition, but that they saw great benefits in their organization from this change. According to Rab it took a year to convince every CEO to go on the cloud. He shared it was well worth it, and that the organization saw an immediate positive impact.

“There was a backlog of documents when we went live with our Epic EHR. Our third-party vendor said it would take 200 days to take care of the backlog. We dialed it up in three minutes and we decreased that time to 72 hours.”

The organization saw a massive impact, saving days from leveraging a cloud-based platform. 

Although Dr. Priebe supports the idea of healthcare organizations going on the cloud, he understands it is a challenging process and everyone is at a different part of the journey. Dr. Priebe shared a challenge his organization saw when transitioning to the cloud, suggesting the main limiting factor is the human workforce. He said, “It is not easy to attract a top-end cloud architect or top-end cloud security. It takes time to get the right team members to get the support to move to cloud.” The state of the current labor market acts as a limiting factor that directly affects most leading healthcare organizations in their transition to the cloud. Unfortunately, it is challenging but it is a transition that all three CIOs believe is necessary, depending on what part of the journey your healthcare organization is at.  

Importance of the Partnership Between a CIO and CFO 

In this panel, we had the opportunity to ask all three panelists about the partnership with their CFO and how this partnership influenced their investments in technology. All panelists agreed that it is critical and influential to have a partnership with their CFO. Dr. Priebe shared his perspective, that a CIO has an important role in helping the CFO understand what assets, from a technology and IT perspective, they have to drive transformation of their operations. The panelists directed their focus on the importance of a forward-thinking CFO who sees potential in technology and is willing to invest in it. If a CIO and CFO do not have these aligning ideas, then it makes it extremely difficult for a CIO to follow through with their plans.  

Dr. Rab shared the role of the CFO in this topic. He said, “We are all trying to let the world know that digital technology is here to make you better in healthcare business. That way of speaking becomes more powerful when it comes from the CFO. You need a forward-thinking CFO that aligns with you.”  

Temple further supported this messaging by emphasizing the importance of investing in technology. Similarly, he believes that only a forward-thinking CFO can be the CIO’s support mechanism, who will allow you to vet more ideas.  

As we move away from the COVID pandemic, we see healthcare organizations facing other complex challenges. Organizations are leveraging data and technology to help them navigate through challenges while also improving care and increasing revenue. The key to integrating technology in your healthcare organization is having a strong partnership between the CIO and CFO. 

More Resources