Best Hospital IT 2016: CIOs talk emerging technologies with biggest potential

From chatbots mining social media to wearables and trendy tools, Healthcare IT News' Best Hospital IT Department winners discuss the top tech poised to have a critical impact on their organizations' future.
By Tom Sullivan
09:33 AM
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Best Hospital IT 2016 CIOs

When Healthcare IT News interviewed the winners of our Best Hospital IT Departments 2016 we also asked them which emerging technologies today have the greatest potential to improve healthcare in the future.

Their answers ranged from analytics to wearables – with chatbots, custom apps, mobile tools, population health platforms, sensing devices, speech recognition and virtual visits also on the list.

"It's the new tech associate: analytics," said Jon Brown, CIO at Mission Health System in Asheville, North Carolina (#5 Super hospital). "Sophisticated algorithms direct care without taking away a provider’s ability to put in judgment and not jeopardize a patient’s privacy and security in the process."

While Brown and Mission are tapping analytics to transition consumer and care process models in new ways, Mahaska Health (#2 Small Hospital) IT director Chris Hickie said population health tools enable value-based care and better decision about how to treat patients.

"Population health software systems and data warehousing are going to be a key technology for all healthcare organizations," Hickie said. "We're generating mounds and mounds of data and have been talking about this for years: meaningful use is enabling us to generate tons of data that will allow us to see this and analyze it and interpret it."

[Also: Post-EHR era: Buzzword or almost here? Best Hospital IT winners weigh in]

Just about any discussion of meaningful use, of course, leads to another emerging technological advancement, albeit one with its share of controversy or at least growing pains, that being interoperability.

In the case of Methodist Le Bonheur (#1 Super Hospital), interoperability is the underpinning for care continuity.

"We’re really focused on exchanging data, not just for meaningful use but in looking for opportunities to improve patient health in the community, including providers who serve underinsured and self-pay patients,” said Gayle Shepherd, director of consumer and physician innovation at Methodist Le Bonheur.

CIO Mark McMath added that the system is also putting considerable stock in Apple iPads, Watches and iPhones. With 90 percent of their doctors using Apple products, Methodist Le Bonheur created an algorithm that sits on top of its Cerner EHR to constantly survey patients and sends physicians an alert to their iPhone when something changes.

Indeed, several CIOs pointed to mobile health wares when asked about emerging technologies with big potential.

"I'm quite optimistic with the direction of mobile devices," said Alex Rodriguez, CIO of St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Kentucky (#4 Large hospital). "Once we can untether our clinicians from desktop units and carts and onto a true mobile platform, we can then obtain the next level of productivity from our nurses and physicians that strengthens the care of our patients."

Lucile Packard Children’s CIO Ed Kopetsky (#3 Super hospital) added wearables and sensing devices as changing the shape of healthcare moving forward.

"Today, almost all of healthcare is still location-based: you've got to come to the hospital or the clinic," Kopetsky explained. "In the future, we're going to be able to discharge patients as if they're in their bed, but on monitoring with a center that can pick up the alerts. Or we can do virtual visits with patients who don't need to come in but just need to show us their symptoms. For our patients, who in particular have long-term needs, this is phenomenal. For diabetes it's going to be a breakthrough.”

Custom apps and standardized interfaces topped the list of Tuality Healthcare CIO Sonney Sapra.

"Making apps specific to each specialty is important in getting the right info to the right doctor at the right time," said Sapra (#1 Medium hospital). "The easier we can make it on them, the better. Speech recognition can take place while a patient is there to get them involved in the documenting process."

And then there is the promise of technologies that teach providers more about patients than many ever thought possible — without the need to involve patients. Take chatbots, for instance.

"The world of the bots is coming," said Inspira Health CIO Tom Pacek (#3 Large hospital). "Chatbots are going to push the envelope of consumerism and help improve care as we can get a better understanding of our population based on what they tell Amazon and Google. The next wave is dealing with data from a social media perspective."

That will mean pulling information from bots and social crawlers into an EHR or database and then running analytics to learn about those patients from what they order.

"We’re going to start to understand why someone has a health condition so we can reach out in a non-threating way to help them deal with health issues in a proactive sense," Pacek said.

Bill Siwicki, Jessica Davis, Mike Miliard and Diana Manos contributed to this report.  


Healthcare IT News' Best Hospital IT Departments 2016: 
⇒ Meet the winners

⇒ CIOs reveal what makes an IT shop great 
⇒Interactive map: Best Hospital IT Departments 
See the people who make their IT departments winners