Tell us about your role and responsibilities at UChicago Medicine.
As executive director for IT strategic programs, I am responsible for applying information technology and services to our strategic business initiatives. This includes facilitating IT strategic planning for mergers and acquisitions and facilities projects, such as new hospitals and clinics. I am also involved in aspects of IT planning and delivery for other organizational priorities, such as digital health transformation, care delivery transformation and expansion of our UCM Community Health and Hospitals Division.
Ultimately, my role is really all about ensuring the organization receives the IT visioning and support that is needed to enable and achieve our organization’s longer-range goals.
Digital is affecting the healthcare industry as a whole. Do you feel digital’s influence is different for an academic medical center?
Our providers are driven by research; they are constantly exploring new innovations in their respective domains to improve clinical outcomes and advance medicine. In an academic environment, that’s the mindset of the faculty. But as an integrated care delivery provider, we also have to operate as a business with a designated set of resources that force us to make “the right” investments that are scalable, secure and produce ROI. It’s that dichotomy of vision and priorities that makes the academic medical center approach to digital transformation different. Our faculty stakeholders can’t wait for big solutions that will work for everyone. In order to promote their progress, we have to be willing and able to try new solutions big and small. But, it’s difficult to stay ahead with the headwinds all provider organizations are experiencing today. We have to successfully operate in a middle ground. For example, these headwinds are requiring a shift in focus—from the provider experience to the patient experience. It’s clear today that we must prioritize our digital initiatives around our patients and their families, but will need provider buy-in and support to accomplish this mission. At the same time, their support in our success means we are able to support and fund their research and teaching missions.
“I love having my head, hands and heart on the pulse of the direction of the organization. I get to think in and outside the box with our leadership across all functions and specialties.”
As an academic medical institution, you have medical students and residents immersed in clinical care. Do they bring a different perspective when it comes to use of technology?
Students and residents bring more integration demands. They know in their personal lives that they can integrate data from traffic/wayfinding apps, social media accounts, financial apps, etc. and get real-time data to make decisions. So they wonder why the EHR can’t provide the same kind of intelligent tools for clinical alerts and decision support in mobile, personalized and minimal-click workflows. This is driving a healthy demand for mobile, integrated and data-driven solutions.
On a positive note, a clinician’s personal experience or baseline abilities with respect to technology is greater than it was 15 years ago in my career. Training and adoption still require a good amount of focus, but we can be more efficient because we aren’t teaching the basics of user interfaces anymore. Our user base now has a sort of ‘technical intuition’ that allows us to move faster.
What are some of the biggest opportunities your organization faces in terms of integrating digital technology?
We are no longer just implementing tools that support existing, well-defined workflows. We are embarking on the implementation of technology that will disrupt, accelerate business process and will require us to think differently about how we operate. These disruptions will be an opportunity to leverage leaders who can think differently about how to use our resources. An effective digital health strategy will require big changes in our organizational structures.
Also, I think we will be challenged with cultivating IT talent outside of traditional IT roles. As a provider organization, IT is used to supporting our providers and staff on their technology. But as we pursue more and more technologies that engage patients, families and that offer real-time care and communication, we have to train an entire army to achieve end-user adoption. For example, providers will have to buy-in to the benefits of telemedicine because our patients will want to know that their caregivers endorse alternatives to face-to-face encounters. One of the barriers to adoption of our patient portal has been the lack of knowledge and comfort on the part of our clinicians to talk with patients about a way to engage with them online and explain the portal’s features and benefits. If we want to truly transform interactions with our patients, the frontline caregivers will need to be more informed, comfortable and empowered to be our marketing team, trainers and first line of support with patient facing tools. Can you imagine going to the airport and the ticketing agent there being unable to help you navigate their mobile app?
Lastly, I think it will be easy to be excited about what investments in new technology will do to decrease length of stay, and what that improvement to patient access might do for us. But we need to ensure we continue to focus on internal efficiency. If I ask a nurse to educate patients and their families about an app to track their progress at home post discharge, I have to give him or her something back that also saves them time.
What has been the best way to coalesce the digital agenda at UChicago Medicine?
We are trying to be intentional about what digital health transformation means to us. Currently, it’s a set of industry buzzwords that mean different things to different people, even within UChicago Medicine. So, we are taking an enterprise approach in terms of our business goals and how digital health technologies might enable (or support or drive) our strategic plans. This is how we will derive the digital health strategy itself. It’s not just digital for the sake of digital.
For this year, we have capital-approved projects that we believe fit our definition for digital health and are truly transformational, or at least lay down the foundation for transformation. We are managing these projects as a program and leveraging program and project management principles to keep them moving forward.
What do you feel are the strongest opportunities for using digital to improve patient experiences?
No doubt for us it is patient access and clinical communication. We need to be more connected across the care continuum and drive growth through improved, patient-directed and on demand access.
Are there any technology-enabled innovations you’re excited about for UChicago Medicine?
Patient-directed scheduling online is important. We’ve partnered with Zocdoc to provide access to make appointments electronically across a variety of specialties—and to be seen within a few days. It’s an early game changer, but it’s setting new expectations internally for access that will only increase over time as more patients adopt this convenience.
What do you like most about your job?
I love having my head, hands and heart on the pulse of the direction of the organization. I get to think in and outside the box with our leadership across all functions and specialties. Everyone stands to benefit from technology, and partnering on solutions to solve their evolving challenges teaches me about their business drivers too. This makes me a more well-rounded and effective contributor.
What do you like to do outside of work? Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
I am a busy mom of three small kids. Twins that are six and a three-year-old. So, I’m an up-and-coming soccer mom, gymnastics mom and play date concierge. When I have time to do “adult” things, I like to entertain family and friends at our home, work out and watch binge-worthy television.