A number of executives started new roles as chief digital, data and information officers this year at top systems and health firms as providers try to evolve to meet digital demand and face worries over cybersecurity.
Healthcare Dive caught up with Providence’s Chief Strategy and Digital Officer Sara Vaezy and Intermountain’s Chief Information Officer Craig Richardville just months into their tenure to discuss how they plan to tackle the challenges ahead and how the role they occupy has evolved to become a key part of a health system’s overall strategy.
Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
HEALTHCARE DIVE: In your role, you’re responsible for information technology, strategy, operations and cybersecurity. What’s your main focus day to day? What are your must wins at the end of each day?
CRAIG RICHARDVILLE: In some cases, people like to admire the problem. Let's decide, let's direct our work, and let’s get it accomplished. The things that you know you need to do, you've got to get that done because tomorrow something’s going to come that's totally unplanned, unexpected but critical to the needs of the company.
So I have got to continue to create capacity. And that’s really going to be making sure we focus on the right work and get the work accomplished.
What is the biggest challenge for health systems when it comes to digital patient experience?
SARA VAEZY: I think a huge problem is we’re not very close to our customers.
They don’t need to interact with us that often in a purely clinical capacity. When you’re far from your customer, any time they need a service, they’re up for grabs.
One of the big drivers of that has been the fragmentation of identity and data around an individual. It’s very difficult to get closer to your user if you really don’t know what they care about. The big area that we’re tackling right now, as a group, is this notion of identity and authentication of an individual.
Big health systems are notoriously slow to pivot, yet competing with the likes of Amazon and other nontraditional entrants. Can health systems stay ahead of the market in a digital space?
RICHARDVILLE: We compete with them, but there’s also the opportunities to collaborate with some of the new entrants as well.
In terms of speed, size really shouldn’t matter in your ability to be agile if you’re going toward the right goal.
But when I look at the whole digital transformation, part of it is really learning from what's happened in other industries.
Look at what has happened in banking. A lot of the clerical tasks … could happen right here at three o'clock in the morning on my schedule when I want to do it. The patient, just like in banking, is the most underutilized resource.
We want to put those in place and we’re going to learn from those other industries.
What have you learned about patient behavior and how has that changed since the pandemic?
VAEZY: Behaviors are completely different. They have changed from a consumer perspective in a way that it’s not just the behavior, but the demand is actually different. The pandemic forced a lot of folks to start engaging online.
We have a chatbot that was actually used during the pandemic pretty extensively around screening and triage of symptoms. Even though folks aren’t engaging with it around the original use case.
We now get millions and millions of utterances, every quarter. It helps folks do all sorts of things like reset their password and a lot of administrative stuff that they would have had to call and talk to clinic staff.
Consumers are more engaged and educated. They know how to work their way around. We've instrumented it so that we can see how people click around. They’re pretty sophisticated.
Six and a half years ago, when I joined Providence, we did a bunch of work on ‘what is telehealth?’ People just didn’t know.
How has the role of chief digital and information officer evolved?
RICHARDVILLE: When this role first got created, you typically reported to the CFO. It was all about expense management. Then you evolved and got into operations and workflows and moved to reporting to the chief operating officer.
Now the role has evolved where it's very strategic.
It's what can make you different than your competitors and you’re usually reporting to the chief strategy officer or the CEO.