During a presentation at the recent HIMSS15 conference in Chicago, Srinivas Velamoor, a principal at McKinsey & Co., gave a packed room a lot to think about.

Over the last 10 years, healthcare has made tremendous strides in the adoption of information technologies, such as electronic health records, mobile devices, and others, that are improving patient safety and increasing provider efficiencies, said Velamoor, who is a leader in the consulting company’s healthcare IT practice.

However, even more advanced digital technologies are rapidly permeating healthcare, including the social web, big data, the “Internet of Things,” next-generation genomics, 3D printing, and more. “All are coming together in fascinating ways,” he said. “The pace of change is incredible.”

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Technology is enabling consumers to take more control over their healthcare decisions, bypassing payers and searching out providers based on care and cost.  And this digital revolution has the potential to completely redraw the health ecosystem, he said, much as similar digital revolutions transformed travel, investing and other market sectors.

To fully capitalize on the transformation, healthcare organizations need to change the very way they look at information technology, Velamoor said.

Healthcare leaders, he said:

*Need to stop thinking about “IT strategies” and focus on “digital transformation.” In the old days, healthcare IT executives looked at how technology could support the business and drew up business plans that covered the next one to two years. However, planning for events over any length of time no longer works, because things are happening too quickly. CIOs and other IT leaders must react quickly as new technologies emerge.

*Need to realize that they will manage IT, not own it.  The Googles and Amazons of the world are having an extraordinary influence on how data is managed and, in the future, few providers are likely to own their data centers.  IT needs to think about becoming an architect and broker of data services, not an owner of IT infrastructure.

*Need to move from systems of record (such as EHRs) to systems of engagement. He used the example of the Apple Watch, which enables people to manage their health and fitness.  

*Need to architect for multiple speeds and maximum flexibility. Providers need at least “a two-speed architecture,” he said, one that deals with uptime and another that deals with engagement.

*Need to realize what skills are necessary to drive the digital future. It’s not the COBOL programmers, he said; it’s the data scientists and user-experience experts who will be the change agents. Providers will need to crowd source for these talents. “There aren’t enough data scientists,” he said.

*Need to manage innovation as a portfolio. There are a lot of digital startups with interesting technologies, but who will be the winners, he asked? Providers must manage their technology investments as a portfolio -- some can be managed for return on investment, while others should be held for market disruption.

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