Summit Keynoter Sees Clinical Care, IT Becoming Increasingly Intertwined

By Zach Donisch, Director of Membership, AEHIA

“We had a behavioral health patient call in [to our IT Call Center] ready to commit suicide,” recalled Michael Ruiz, vice president and chief digital officer at MedStar Health. “Our phone operator kept them on the phone and continued talking with them. We were able to get information and send help to their home, keeping a tragic situation from unfolding.”

These sorts of situations are not one-offs, and highlight the increasingly vital role information technology employees and other clinical support staff play in the frontlines of the overall patient experience. While routine examples of the IT department’s involvement in patient care are more mundane, almost all tasks in healthcare revolve around technological equipment or applications that every provider must understand and use to help treat patients. As the keynote speaker or AEHIA, AEHIS and AEHIT’s Fall Summit on Oct 30-31 in San Antonio, Ruiz understands and embraces technology’s role in healthcare. His presentation will highlight new technology that hospitals will have at their disposal in a matter of years and how chief digital officers like Ruiz and their staff are positioned to lead the way towards the modernization of healthcare and further sculpt the patient digital experience.

Michael Ruiz

As chief digital officer, Ruiz is concerned with the way that patients not only interact with technology but also their entire healthcare experience. As Ruiz stated, the digital experience is about putting the customer first. “Patients want convenience… they want to partner with their doctors,” he explained. Technology is evolving to help put the patient in charge of both their information and the vector of their treatment. Methods allowing electronic communication with a doctor through video chats or text messaging exist and are being implemented in secure and safe environments. Thanks to these advances in technology, patients can instantly access their medical records and lab results and get accurate answers from their doctors quickly and securely. According to Klick Health, 86 percent of the general population use the internet for health information, be it communicating with their doctors or accessing their protected health information. Forty percent of patients reported receiving no ongoing care recommendations from their providers, and marked “education on preventative care” as the strongest source of patient dissatisfaction. Advances in technology, both in clearer routes to digital communication as well as security and encryption, allow providers to leverage these methods in new treatment modalities, such as telehealth and virtual consults.

Ruiz lays out a common scenario – imagine you are a single parent and you’ve got a doctor’s appointment or follow-up consultation. It might be more convenient for your doctor to have you come in for a 15-minute appointment where he or she could explain the complexities of your diagnosis and walk you through the next steps. But, in order to come in for that short appointment, you might have to find a babysitter, call in to work for the afternoon, drive across town, or account for all the above. In this situation, the patient is not the priority. Instead, a doctor could take 20 minutes and write an email, attach documentation, studies, and research to provide everything that patient needs to champion their health. “The expectation today is that if Amazon can ship products to your door in two days, and if Starbucks can craft a digital experience around making coffee, why can’t my healthcare provider grant me those same conveniences?”

Putting the patient first is not without its challenges. “Unlike Starbucks or Amazon, we have an added complexity to healthcare. If I mess up a diagnosis or don’t communicate something to you in the correct way … lives are potentially at stake.” This problem is magnified by the stratified interest in embracing new technologies at the provider level. While studies have proven that patients of all ages use patient portals and other electronic tools at an almost equal rate, the adoption among medical professionals is skewed towards younger practitioners.

Healthcare IT faces other challenges beyond process and management. Pay is an increasing differentiator between commercial IT employees and healthcare IT staff. Providers must find other avenues to compete, starting with how healthcare IT employees perceive their role. “[Healthcare IT employees] struggle to see how they fit into the continuum of care,” said Ruiz. Many long-serving healthcare IT employees still see themselves as secondary to the providers and clinical staff, and in an interconnected and digital healthcare system that no longer stands up to scrutiny. Ruiz offers a new pitch to prospective employees. “How would you like to do cutting-edge work in a place where you are helping and contributing to saving lives and providing high-quality healthcare to patients?” His argument for a new breed of healthcare IT professional seeks mission-aligned staff who understand the meaningful nature of healthcare IT work. This alignment with culture and organizational values serves as a differentiator for many considering their next place of employment. A LinkedIn survey found that 74 percent of job candidates want a job where they feel their work matters. With a shift in perspective and message, healthcare IT can make a unique case that appeals to many young and talented candidates who can help usher along big changes in medicine.

Within the evolving field of healthcare technology, prepared and motivated staff are extremely important. As technology changes the way we deliver healthcare, employees and mindsets must also change. In preparation for his exciting keynote presentation on the future of healthcare technology, Ruiz hints at the new evolution of the healthcare IT professional.  “It’s not drawing blood, it’s not the mending of a bone, but there are times when people call in moments of distress, and they’re coming to us in their weakest moments and we have to be ready to handle all of those situations. I think we need to do a better job of drawing that linkage between clinical care and the role IT plays.”

Join Ruiz on Oct. 30 in San Antonio for his keynote presentation, “The Art of the Possible,” where he’ll dive into advances in healthcare technology, disruption in healthcare and how C-suite partnerships can help scale innovative solutions.


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