S+B: The use of new technologies is transforming most industries, and healthcare is no exception. What’s the agenda for the Cleveland Clinic in terms of new, next-generation technology?
HARRIS: Information technology has now become the fastest-growing innovation area at the Cleveland Clinic, and we have been leading in that area. We’ve done a number of projects, including the information exchange projects. We have built analytic tools that allow us to begin thinking about not just one patient, but entire groups of patients, who either have a similar illness or are receiving a similar surgical procedure, so that we can better understand the inputs to that process and the outcomes.
The other great advance that we’re seeing is more engagement on the part of patients. We were one of the early adopters of personal health records, and now we have more than 300,000 patients who have access to basic information like their lab test results, what medications they’re on, their allergy list, their medical problems, and even decision support tools like when they need their next mammogram. We use IT to allow the patient to get at that information in a self-service mode just like many other industries, and that’s becoming an expectation.
In some areas, we are following the herd. Many patients, for instance, already use social media, and we are exploring that. Right now, we’re using it primarily for controlled medical content distribution, to help inform individuals about particular medical procedures or medical conditions. I think what we have to consider is whether it’s an appropriate medium for actually trying to exchange either medical information or medical advice. I think it’s a little early in the space to know the answer to that.
S+B: How can other CIOs in the healthcare industry benefit from your experiences at the Cleveland Clinic?
HARRIS: Healthcare is in a period of rapid change, and for the next decade or so, health CIOs in particular must be prepared for that process. The industry is moving beyond concentrating on technology and administrative issues — registering patients, getting them scheduled, producing a bill. Now we’re in a period that I call clinical integration, where we’re deploying clinical tools that allow doctors to write notes in a computer, place orders, and see their results immediately. Soon we will enter a phase that I call operational integration, which will be the most challenging but also the most beneficial for patients. In this phase, you begin by setting the outcome that you’d like to accomplish, then find the process that you’d like to use to meet that outcome, and then tune the technology to ensure that you hit it in a repeatable and reliable fashion.
The challenge for healthcare CIOs is to move away from focusing on the technology to focus on the marriage between the outcomes and how the technology allows us to accomplish them. It’s a matter of broadening our perspective, moving away from being purely a technology expert to being an outcomes-oriented technology expert.
- Ramez Shehadi is a partner with Booz & Company based in Beirut. He leads the firm’s information technology practice in the Middle East.
- Walid Tohme is a principal with Booz & Company based in Beirut. He specializes in the strategic use of technology in healthcare.
- Edward H. Baker is the former editor of CIO Insight magazine and a contributing editor to strategy+business.