Two CIOs discuss the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on health IT teams

In a HIMSS20 Digital session, they cover the human element to IT, some panic, disaster recovery plans, CIOs supporting employees and more.
By Bill Siwicki
12:02 PM

Paul Green, CIO of Angel MedFlight, and Bask Iyer, CIO at VMware

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare provider organizations unlike anything else in a century. And the crisis is having profound effects on healthcare IT departments, too, with many employees working from home and requests for help bubbling over.

In a HIMSS20 Digital educational session titled "Perspectives on the Effects of the Crisis from the CIO of Angel MedFlight," Paul Green, CIO of Angel MedFlight, an emergency medical services provider, and Bask Iyer, CIO at VMware, a health IT vendor, discuss the effects that the crisis is having on business from a technology-leadership as well as a human perspective.

The human element to health IT

There is a human element for these CIOs, for health IT teams, for the people they are interacting with on a daily basis.

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“We need to give the scientists time to respond and help us, and we need to cooperate and collaborate right now,” Iyer remarked. “And leaders should not be panicky. We all work from home, and exclusively from home, and are doing extraordinary things. So a lot of things are not going to go the way you expect them to. We did a lot of things right to test the contingency and so on, but we cannot test every scenario.”

Health IT leaders should stay calm, because it is not just the CIO who is important, it’s the whole team, and the team is doing the work. CIOs need to be supportive, comfortable, engaged, concerned and caring, he added.

“Your first responders live a very dangerous life; but to me, the IT folks now are like first responders, because they are trying to make everybody else work well,” he said. “So you got to make sure they don’t get burned out, they don’t get abused, while they are trying to right things. So I am just backing my team 100%, making sure they make decisions and, even if they make mistakes, it’s OK. So why am I so calm? You have to be calm.”

Point to the CDC

Green agrees with Iyer. And he notes a coronavirus-related conundrum he regularly finds himself in as a healthcare CIO.

“Everybody calls me and assumes, because I work in a healthcare environment, that I know, and I’m like, ‘Well first of all, no I don’t, and second of all, stop watching the news,’” he said. “Every single channel that you watch gives a different take on what’s going on, and I just send the link to the CDC site to people when they ask me questions. Follow this, stop listening to whatever anybody else says, just follow the CDC and you’re going to be fine.”

Green observes that everybody these days is so panicked about all of the things surrounding COVID-19.

“Like this toilet paper craze: Of all the things that you’re going to hoard, toilet paper is the first thing that comes to your mind?” he asked. “There are so many more important things to worry about. One thing that has been unique with Angel MedFlight is, there’s no panic. I’ve been a CIO for going on 16 years and I’ve prepared for this moment my whole life.”

No disaster recovery plan?

He notes that people in healthcare always are hearing the question, 'What is your disaster recovery plan?' What shocked Green is that, even today, in the year 2020, so many people he has talked with do not have one.

“It blows my mind that some of these really large companies, and even some government agencies, are like, we don’t really have a true backup scenario,” Green said. “How do you not? How do you not prepare your company, not necessarily to just support your customers, but also to support your employees, because the more you can support your employees and the better you’re taking care of them, the better they’re going to be set up to support your customers.”

And at the end of the day, the customer is going to be taken care of if a healthcare leader is taking care of his or her employees, he added.

“I’ve been asked a lot, What are you doing for the customer?” he noted. “Nothing. I don’t need to do anything for the customer, because I know that we’ve done the right thing by our employees. Sure, we’ve put out a couple of things, like a safety update for COVID-19 and things like that. But at the end of the day, when you make sure that your employees are taken care of, and they’re supported, and everything that comes with that is done right, your customer is going to be taken care of.”

Preparing for the worst

CIOs in general are always preparing for the worst, Green observed. They always have that backup plan, that redundant internet connection, he said.

“What I don’t think people prepared for with COVID-19 was the suddenness, and the way that this changes so dynamically every day,” he said. “That’s where things get a little bit chaotic and mistakes are going to be made. And I think that’s just part of the territory, and you just need to understand how do you change what you’re doing and fix that mistake or recover from that mistake. You’re going to be better for it at the end of the day. But this is a little tough for a lot of people, because it is unheard of. Even 9/11 had nothing remotely close to this.”

Iyer at VMWare had plans. But the reason many companies, including his, have been productive, he said, are the heroes and heroines on the IT teams.

“People did not understand why these people are requesting money for a VPN or money for video conferencing,” he explained. “This IT is a money pit. All these people were questioning all that. Now when we come out of this coronavirus situation, and we are all good and calm and safe, they should go and hug their IT person.”

“And no matter what redundancies and such you do,” he said, speaking of healthcare CIOs, “the people need to know there’s a leader behind them backing them.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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