The future now: Healthcare IT needs a rapid evolution

From predictions to reality: How the pandemic accelerated the vision of 2050 health IT and demonstrated the need distributed approaches.

In January 2020, a group of colleagues and I attended a retreat at The Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., which provided valuable insights into what the healthcare delivery structure and industry could look like in the future. We were taught a method to envision the future by thinking ahead 30 or more years, and then to start mapping back to our present day, looking for signals that are indications to that future.

Thirty years seemed like a long time away at the time. However, none of us at the retreat could have predicted how quickly we were about to arrive at that future.

Two months after our retreat, a global health disruption occurred with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the futuristic approaches we discussed during the retreat were became reality. From remote workforces, innovative communications and technologies and the movement to virtual care, the pandemic reinforced a pivotal point from our retreat – if any product or service can be distributed, it will be.

Three years post-pandemic, health IT leaders find themselves in a healthcare industry that is in the middle of transformation. We’ve changed the architecture of how healthcare business performs and patient care is delivered. Along with these changes, new roles in technology innovation and digital transformation have emerged.

Taking lessons learned from the retreat, health IT leaders need to plan for the future, but act as if the future is today. Now is the time to map a new health IT trajectory.

A distributed landscape’s potential

The retreat yielded a profound understanding of the potential of distributed health IT workforces and the technologies that facilitate them. By extrapolating a vision of healthcare in 2050 and then mapping it back to the present, a roadmap for transformation emerged. The pandemic further emphasized the feasibility of a globally connected, remote talent pool in healthcare.

Integrating managed services and solutions within health systems’ IT teams exemplifies this innovative shift. The traditional model of brick-and-mortar exclusivity in health systems has given way to collaborative and distributed frameworks.

New, transformative HIT roles

Health IT executives are no longer mere overseers of technology, but rather curators of solutions, talent, systems and services. Their roles encompass strategic planning and execution that resonate with the overarching healthcare vision.

Collaborative partnerships, cloud computing and remote resources are now essential to dissolve traditional office-centric constraints. Titles such as chief data officer, chief transformation officer, chief innovation officer or chief digital officer encapsulate the diverse responsibilities that health IT executives now shoulder.

With these transformative roles in mind, here are five specific steps health IT leaders need to take now.

Become a strategic leader. Establish your place among leadership providing a strategic vision and innovation road map. Partner with the executive team to enable and orchestrate key transformational initiatives.

Comprehend healthcare complexity. A deep understanding of the health system’s intricate components, partners and ecosystems provides a solid foundation for innovation problem-solving. This is especially vital in an industry grappling with high demand, cost challenges and dated technology.   

Transition to strategic thinking. Identify opportunities for groundbreaking projects that align with forward-looking objectives. Executing initiatives like digital front door implementations, home-based care innovations and fundamental health system redesigns establishes professionals as IT trailblazers. Engaging in research and projects beyond personal horizons enriches experience.

Leverage cross-industry expertise. Draw insights from advanced sectors like finance, retail and consumer services to expedite your health IT creativity and yield novel solutions.

Identify strategic vendor partners. Partnering with innovative vendors offers a panoramic view of industry trends and facilitates the implementation of cutting-edge innovations.

Pioneering a futuristic approach

The future health IT executive must lead with a forward-looking lens, guiding workflows and strategies with visionary insight. Such leadership is pivotal in seamlessly integrating distributed models in today’s dynamic environment.

One current-day example is the use of distributed application managed services through external partners to provide day-to-day system support. Collaborative, distributed IT support models free in-house experts to focus on strategic innovations, while external third parties streamline workflows and offer predictive control. Streamlined help desks optimize resources, minimize time waste and ensure disciplined workflows. A clinical help desk staffed with clinicians ensures seamless patient care regardless of where the supporting clinicians are physically located.

The healthcare industry’s trajectory for the next three decades hinges on distributed workforces, a redefined role for IT leadership and an unwavering commitment to innovative solutions. As healthcare IT professionals prepare to embark on this transformative journey, embracing cross-industry insights, strategic thinking, and a holistic understanding of healthcare systems pave the way for a dynamic and impactful role in shaping the future of health IT.

In this era of unprecedented change, those who champion innovation will be the driving force behind a more accessible, efficient and patient-centric healthcare landscape.

Bill Lewkowski is vice president of strategic client services for HCTec.

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