healthcaretechoutlook

IT Becomes a Business (Leader)

By Don Lewis, VP/CTO, Group Health

Don Lewis, VP/CTO, Group Health

In The Beginning...
...the role of IT was clear. First, we weren’t even called IT we were called Data Processing. Our role was, quite simply, to process data. There wasn’t much to “manage” and the technology was really just a tool to make some mundane tasks go faster.

"This new way of thinking is most apparent in the Consumer Engagement and Digital Channel space, particularly when viewed through a healthcare lens"

Then, IBM Personal Computers showed up and changed the game.Now, anyone could process the data, on their desktop and they did! The technology was a little more embedded in the business, but it was still largely a tool to make things faster.

Finally, people started asking IT (our grown-up name) for our opinion and even guidance. That’s where everything came together.

Now What???
Suddenly, the business wanted us to keep the technology they already had running smoothly, in addition to providing them with more technology; making it all work together, delivering it quickly, doing it cheaply, and showing value. Suddenly, IT was starting to feel like a business!

It turns out that we (IT) have been running more and more like a business for a while. We’ve automated some of our own, internal processes. We’ve figured out how to keep the old stuff running reliably and at a lower cost. We also figured out how to architect things so that they work together better. We learned how to deliver value faster (using Agile methodologies). As a result, the business started inviting us to the table to talk before business decisions were made.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the consumer digital engagement space. Entire industries have been transformed (e.g. book selling) or are being transformed (e.g. health care) through totally new and different ways of interacting with consumers. It has required a shift in both business thinking and technology thinking.

This new way of thinking is most apparent in the Consumer Engagement and Digital Channel space, particularly when viewed through a healthcare lens.

Consumer Engagement and Technology A Significant Change
Healthcare is a laggard in the consumer engagement space. Some of the resistance to using technology to engage with our customers is cultural, some of itis regulatory, and some of it is simply the nature of the business. After all, despite the Star Trek scenarios, most people still prefer their physician to be a human rather than a computer.

Until recently, most people were far removed from the actual costs of their healthcare,which led to maintaining the status quo. Today, however, consumers increasingly are taking charge of the healthcare dollar. Healthcare exchanges are becoming a popular option for many people to obtain their healthcare and some employers are actively encouraging their staff to purchase healthcare through exchanges both public and private. Exchanges make the true cost of care much more obvious and starts to drive engagement in the healthcare system in new (and good) ways, including through digital means.

Consider prescription refills. No one really liked having to call their pharmacy or doctor to order a refill. You had to find the bottle to get the prescription ID, call a number, talk to a robot, and then hope that the refill was there when you showed up at the pharmacy. Now, many healthcare providers offer the option to see your list of medications and order refills through an online (or mobile) portal, select the medication, and send it off to the pharmacy. But how did the provider know which prescriptions were yours? Electronic medical records (EMR),installed a few years ago as part of the Affordable Care Act, ensure the right medications go to the right patient. After many years, those investments (which were significant) started to show promise.

Prescriptions refills seem mundane and they are but what if we talk about something bigger, something more impactful to the customer? Could IT help drive this? Perhaps. But how would we approach it? Do IT folks know anything about driving business value? As it turns out, the answer is “yes!” IT sits at a unique position in the business we can see (and understand) what the company is trying to do from a customer perspective. We also know what technical capabilities exist today and what technical capabilities could exist in the near future. We also enjoy being in the position of “Switzerland” we’re more focused on the success of the organization as a whole, rather than individual business units (although we certainly want them to succeed when it adds to the overall success of the organization). Wow!

So how might we bring forward a new way of engaging with our customers? Of course we would partner with some great people in the affected business units and generate some ideas. IT might bring to the table that we have lots of data, but we’re not doing much with it other than running retrospective reports. We could suggest that there is value in using that data in a real-time way to create more interaction with our customers. May be we do some predictive analytics. Or maybe we match the data in the EMR to some real-time location or biometric data from our customers (assuming they have given us permission to do so). This opens up lots of opportunities to redesign our mobile app to provide real-time feedback to a customer that is relevant based on their location and their medical information. Now we’ve created some amazing customer engagement that gets people to be active participants in their healthcare even when they aren’t sick.This is real progress! There are hundreds or thousands of these ideas that are just starting to become both feasible and valuable as the healthcare landscape changes.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Ten or 15 years ago, IT could not have had this conversation. We were still the “technology people.” But today, more and more of us have insights into the business that only we, from our unique position in the organization, can have. Savvy business leaders have recognized this and actively seek input and ideas from IT. And IT leaders are starting to think differently about their own roles. They are becoming consultants to the business and helping to drive value. Perhaps we’ll see IT leaders taking on CEO and COO roles more frequently in the future leveraging their experience and insights gained from years in IT to actually run the whole business.Stay tuned!