Making Time for Innovation

john halamka

By John Halamka, MD
Twitter: @jhalamka

CIOs are at a challenging crossroads in their careers. Regulatory burdens, security threats, and changing reimbursement models have led to a demand for change that seems overwhelming. As workflow pressures increase, it’s easy to declare IT the rate limiting step.

Given that many CIOs are ready to raise the white flag of defeat in desperation, finding time for innovation amidst the swirl of must do projects can be a challenge.

My hope, and something I strive to do, is to take the long view, asking what innovations we’ll need in the next few years, which will enhance productivity, and possibly serve as generalizable tools, reducing the number of requests for niche systems. As I think about 2016, here are a few of the kinds of innovations I think we’ll want for healthcare organizations:

  1. In our home  lives, we use cloud hosted storage accessible  on our personal devices. How can we give folks the same easy access to their files (in lieu of the SSLVPN web-based access) while still protecting patient privacy?
  2. In our home lives, we use social networking – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ to provide collaboration spaces for sharing ideas, messages, and files among groups  How do we offer these kind of applications to support our work lives? Is Slack a good fit for healthcare organizations?
  3. In our home lives, we use texting for communication among teams. How do we deploy secure, enterprise grade texting that is fault tolerant, supports delegation (if you are unreachable), role-based messaging (the current administrator on call, whoever that is), and audibility. Per Harvard rules, I must disclose that I serve on the Board of Directors for Imprivata which produces such a product. I will recuse myself from any decision making processes about secure texting procurement.
  4. As I’ve blogged about previously, patient generated healthcare data will become increasingly important and we need to be able to incorporate objective data (home devices) from smartphone middleware like HealthKit and subjective data (electronic patient reported outcomes).
  5. Interoperability use cases will increasingly require closed loop transactions with tighter coupling among organizations. The FHIR work accelerated by the Argonauts group is the best path forward to achieve this goal.

As usual, sometimes we buy innovation and sometimes we build innovation. If practical, we should procure these services from cloud-based software as a service providers.

We need to work closely with our compliance and legal colleagues to balance risk and benefit, accepting that with all change and innovation there is a risk of the unknown. We can mitigate risk in the face of ambiguity.

Often organizations focus on the short term – the tyranny of the urgent. Carving out time for innovation with a long term view is necessary to create true breakthroughs. A dozen short term sprints will not add up to the marathon of transformation that is only accomplished via a steady pace over time.

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network (NEHEN), Co-Chair of the HIT Standards Committee, a full Professor at Harvard Medical School, and a practicing Emergency Physician. This article was originally published in his blog Life as a Healthcare CIO and is reprinted here with permission.