Ask IT leaders in any industry for advice on encouraging their organizations to innovate and, at some point, the conversation invariably turns to convincing other C-level executives and the board of directors that a particular investment is worth the time, money and risk.
This is particularly tough for healthcare CIOs. The cost of maintaining legacy electronic health record (EHR) systems, not to mention implementing what's needed to meet the demands of HIPAA, meaningful use and the ICD-10 conversion, often leaves little, if any, room for investment in new technology such as mobile health and telehealth.
It can be done, though — and Edward Martinez, senior vice president and CIO of Miami Children's Hospital, knows what it takes to get there.
'Small Wins' Show Hospital Board Benefits of IT Investment
A little more than two years ago, Miami Children's board of directors decided it was time to overhaul the facility's entire IT environment, from infrastructure to applications. Martinez knew he couldn't just request funding, especially since the amount of money needed for such an overhaul could easily pay for a new building instead. So he helped form an IT governance committee — with membership that included attorneys, IT pros and marketers — which was asked to place IT strategy in the contest of long-term corporate goals.
Everyone knew that the hospital provided "great medicine," Martinez says, It was up to the governance committee, then, to convince the board that Miami Children's could bring more to the table. It did this by touting innovation as a way to improve market share, he says.
"For them, it was [important] to understand that using technology the way we're using it only makes it better for the patient," Martinez says.
This meant selling the board on mobility and patient engagement. Mobility made sense, given the popularity of the smartphone, but it did take some work to shift the organization from a standard patient portal to a more mobile experience.
Progress here came in the form of "small wins," Martinez says, with apps that help patients navigate through the hospital, order food from their bed or read medical research on their condition. When it's time for a follow-up visit, patients can sign forms electronically before they arrive, too.
These apps succeeded in showing the board of directors the value of investing in IT, Martinez says. This had a twofold effect. For starters, it paved the way for more robust mobile apps. This includes videos links within patient discharge instructions that can, for example, show a parent how to administer insulin to a child recently diagnosed with diabetes. This takes a complex process that used to require calling a pediatrician hotline or even making a follow-up appointment and now solves it in a matter of minutes, he says.
Telehealth Improves Patient Care — And Lets Hospital Boost Business
In addition, getting the board to embrace digitization helped Miami Children's push forward with business intelligence and telehealth initiatives. The latter, in particular, has helped the hospital expand its business.
Despite its large population, many parts of Florida remain rural. The parents of a child with a head injury could find themselves 400 miles from the nearest neurosurgeon. In a manner of speaking, that distance can be the difference between paralysis and a normal life, Martinez says.
Telehealth has thus emerged as a "key strategy" for Miami Children's, which uses its telehealth center for subspecialist and emergency care videoconferencing, remote reading of diagnostic tests and additional consulting services to outside healthcare providers. Families of Miami Children's patients, meanwhile, can speak to physicians from afar — getting a video consult, via iPad, to help determine if, say, a child has suffered a seizure while on vacation.
"It's taking the level of care to a whole new perspective," Martinez says.
'Revolutionary' Advances in Telehealth Poised to Change Healthcare
And Martinez says this level of care will see "revolutionary" advances in the next two to three years. For example, telehealth is already present in retail settings, with CVS, Walgreens, Target and Walmart among national retailers and pharmacies offering clinical services such as blood pressure screenings and vaccinations. But what if that so-called "minute clinic" can connect that patient to a doctor, he says, turning what can be a three-hour wait for an appointment or a $1,000 emergency room visit into a 10-minute visit paid for with a credit card?
Telehealth is also on the verge of changing the way patients interact with the physicians they see regularly, Martinez says. Miami Children's is piloting technology that aims to let patients receive virtual care on par with the experience they would have in a physician's office, he says. FDA-approved, Bluetooth-enabled medical device will play an important role in this medical home model as well.
Meanwhile, specialized ICU carts that improve physician-to-physician interactions over the wire are beginning to pique Martinez's interest. With such technology in place, a physician can use a stethoscope to hear the heartbeat of someone halfway around the world. "You have to see it to believe it," Martinez says.
Brian Eastwood is a senior editor for CIO.com. He primarily covers healthcare IT. You can reach him on Twitter @Brian_Eastwood or via email. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.