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Setting A Game Plan For Technology In Healthcare

Jim Beinlich, Associate Vice President, Penn Medicine

Technology continues to make huge strides in medicine and treatment, changing the way treatments and medical care is delivered in the healthcare sector. Most health systems across the world have begun adopting modernized platforms such as Electronic Health Records or EMR for making medical records available digitally. This has brought along the benefits of improving patient care for the long-term, specifically, in identifying the trending patterns in patient care and recognizing the most effective solutions and plans by leveraging the rich data that is collected during the care process.

What are the emerging trends and challenges that you observe in the healthcare technology space?

There are so many new players in some of the tech spaces (cloud, analytics, genomics) and there is a lot of overlap in vendor

capabilities, which makes it challenging to navigate the current landscape. Add to that the fact that they sometimes operate under different models, (Infrastructure as a Service or IaaS, Platform as a Service or PaaS, and Software as a Service or SaaS) it really complicates things.

What are the overlying capabilities in solutions that exist in the healthcare space and how do they affect the prevailing models?

In the case of legacy software vendors, it was easy to understand which solution plays what role in a particular space. For traditional systems, we could differentiate between who provided the revenue cycle management and the clinical decision support solutions and what technology components were needed to host those solutions. Now consider the example of precision medicine landscape- in the present scenario, current vendors do not provide end to end solutions in precision medicine but instead may only focus on certain parts of that pipeline. And in such instances, it becomes difficult for us to distinguish the vendor, product and the part(s) they play and excel at in the precision medicine continuum. Sometimes two vendors may provide similar services in the pipeline or offer something in between with overlapping features. This makes it even more complicated for us to identify the space they function in. The conjunction of different products providing parallel services in the healthcare space makes it a bit challenging when choosing the right vendor(s).

  Innovations like cloud and virtualization are opening the door to making data available from a self-service perspective, particularly around analytics  

What are the steps that you follow in identifying the right partnerships?

Our corporate Information Services group follows a strategy we call the three C’s i.e. Common systems, Collaboratively installed and Centrally Managed, to choose the right products and technologies for our organization. This is our game plan for selecting vendor partners to provide solutions that align with our approach. For instance, we have a completely integrated EMR which is provided by a single vendor. That made it much easier for us to implement in our institution. However, there isn't a single integrated platform for analytics that meets all of our requirements. So we went for the next best option- a common platform. We settled on Microsoft Azure’s cloud solution for our analytics platform as it orients with the three Cs model. The solution also allows us to manage the platform as well as enhance the analytics solution with additional plugins. We also do not generally entertain solutions that don’t integrate with our common EMR platform no matter how well it functions as a standalone.

How does technology have an impact on the projects that are you are working on currently?

Currently, we have a number of vendors and products we are evaluating to help us with precision medicine. Therefore, one of the main factors while considering a solution or a vendor is the integration of genomic and genetic lab test results in our EMR. We only consider precision medicine solutions which can integrate with our EMR.

What are the discussions you go through while taking decisions on leveraging tech and steering the company forward?

We have a fairly structured governance committee in our institution which is divided into clinical IT governance, genomics IT governance and many others with a senior IT council at the top. We make collective decisions when it comes to precision medicine or even while establishing partnerships. While considering our new analytic platform for example, initially, our governance committees reviewed our recommendations and direction which was then reviewed by senior I/T governance.

What are the potential disruptions and transformations that you foresee in the evolution of healthcare?

Technology is changing the way care is delivered in the healthcare sector. Innovations like cloud and virtualization are opening the door to making data available from a self-service perspective, particularly around analytics. This brings in the challenge of deciding that has access to the data and to what extent do they have permission. At Penn Medicine, our data domain committees along with senior leadership is responsible for handling the decisions regarding accessibility to the information.

What steps should the leaders of healthcare follow to ensure a seamless healthcare process? Any advice to fellow peers who are about to embark on a similar journey?

Don’t get enamored or intimidated with newer technology (especially cloud and virtualization), it’s not really that different that the old time-sharing models in I/T. Also, don’t get caught up in technology solutions looking for problems to solve. I see some of this now with analytics, machine learning and AI which may address a very specific problem for a single user but may not have broader application. I think there are some maybe less “shiny” problems (scheduling optimization, patient flow, and unstructured text search) that do have broader application and thus potentially higher value.  

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