Change management is IT's greatest challenge in delivering needed innovation

HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf says the culture of “do no harm” is contending with the culture of innovation and “fail fast.”
By Gus Venditto
11:25 AM
Hal Wolf HIMSS

BOSTON – Healthcare must deliver a fundamental leap in the way it delivers care, but the challenges it faces on the human side are far greater than the challenges it faces on the technical side, Hal Wolf III, president and CEO of HIMSS, said at the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum on Monday.

The medical culture of “do no harm” is contending with the culture of innovation and “fail fast,” Wolf said. He asked the audience of healthcare technology executives to consider the view of doctors who are being asked to change their routines by IT staff who continue to roll out new systems. In some cases, clinicians are being asked to change habits they developed over years of caring for patients. 

Wolf said that advances in the delivery of medical insight are critical, noting that the need to provide care for aging population can only be solved with more efficient healthcare systems. “You can’t build hospitals fast enough,” he said. Disease prevention will be an essential component of the changes needed. And to achieve that, insights from applying analytics to big data are necessary.

To be successful, “the integrated whole” must deliver substantially more value to all patients within the system than the “sum of the parts.” But Wolf warned that technology is the easiest part. How it gets used and when it gets used will determine if these new systems are successful in meeting the challenge.

“Value the people in the process,” he said. “And remember that culture eats strategy for lunch.”

This challenge comes at a time when the amount of data is growing at rates medical professionals can’t possibly absorb. 

“Go back to 1972. There were three or four major journals,” he said. “There were about 360 peer- reviewed articles being created every year” and medical professionals could keep up by reading an article every night. Today, there are more than 4,000 peer-reviewed articles published every year. “It is simply not possible for any individual to keep up with the change in care management,” Wolf said.

At the same time, healthcare providers are dealing with an empowered patient whose expectations have changed dramatically.

People are not waiting to see what the medical models are delivering, “they are looking to see what doctor Google is saying.”

“The challenge that every system has is to share the data that is being collected on a personal model and provide information back to the medical model,” Wolf said. “Data is useless until you batch it together and turn it into information. “

Wolf took over the leadership of HIMSS in September, succeeding Steve Lieber. Previously, he was with  The Chartis Group as director, practice leader of information and digital health strategy and senior vice president and COO of Kaiser Permanente’s Permanente Federation, responsible for the development and implementation of critical care delivery strategies, data management and governance.

“This is change management of the highest level,” he said. “And if you think the economics today are hard, give it five years, it’s going to get worse.” “You have to ensure that that the stakeholders are aligned to implement your changes,” Wolf said. Otherwise, “culture will stop the innovation.”

Twitter: @GusVenditto
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 Read our coverage of HIMSS Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum in Boston.
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