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In a COVID-19 world, digital transformation of the workforce goes beyond clinical tools

When developing the healthcare organization of the future, CIOs must consider how the pandemic has transformed the experiences of all their staff members, not just clinicians.
By admin
Mar 7, 2022, 10:13 AM

At ViVE 2022 and the CHIME Spring Forum in Miami Beach this week, thousands of health IT professionals are roaming the convention center’s halls. With the vaccinated and tested attendees largely going mask-free, the event has the same energy and vibrancy as a pre-pandemic gathering.

But no one is at risk of forgetting the enormous toll of COVID-19 or how it has irrevocably changed the way healthcare organizations operate. The pandemic is at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, especially as CIOs and others gather to envision the future of healthcare in 2022 and beyond.

The opening keynote session, moderated by Andy Crowder CHCIO, SVP Chief Information and Analytics Officer at Atrium Health, began with a moment of reflection on the past two years and continued with a deep exploration of how the pandemic will shape the digital transformation of the healthcare workforce for the foreseeable future.

“Digital transformation is well underway in all areas of care, but it’s also happening behind the scenes,” said Stephanie Lahr, MD, CHCIO, CIO and CMIO at Monument Health. “The reality is that for many years, technology was seen as adding tasks that didn’t really make people’s lives easier. But now, we’re approaching a place where all our tools are becoming more mature and exciting.”

“Our workforce is in the middle of a huge transition, so we need to use these tools to reduce friction and make it easier for people to do their work,” she continued. “Having people work from home is one thing, but creativity in digital transformation is going to be about a lot more than where you work. It’ll be about when, how long, and what kind of work people are doing.”

Avoiding burnout in this new environment is a top priority. With the ongoing stresses of the pandemic, burnout is just around the corner for too many employees – and senior leaders are no exception, added Angela Diop, ND Vice President of Information Systems for Unity Health Care.  

“COVID-19 has changed the way we do business,” she stated. “When I look at 2022, we all need to refresh ourselves. That includes CIOs and IT leaders. We need to remember the trauma we’ve been through and do what we can to revitalize ourselves and our staff through more meaningful, engaging connections.”  

The key to success with a new remote workforce is ensuring employees know when and how to ask for help, asserted Zafar Chaudry, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Seattle Children’s.

“We have invested in all of these digital tools to enable productivity and communicate with each other, but people are still feeling overworked and overwhelmed,” he said. “We can’t forget that not everyone has a dedicated home office and the luxury of an uninterrupted workday. Some people are working from dining rooms or closets, homeschooling their kids, and taking care of their dogs. There’s an inequity there that we don’t talk about enough.”

“Employees are very good at saying they have too much work, but they’re not very good at asking for specifics to help them with it,” he said. “Leaders have to take the first step by exposing their own feelings and being open to sharing where they are with burnout, otherwise employees won’t do the same.”

To successfully navigate the new hybrid working environment, organizational leaders will need to make a concerted effort to change the culture around burnout, leveraging a combination of innovative health IT tools and personal connections.

“Our direct reports might not be used to talking with us about burnout, but we have to change that,” said Lehr. “We have to have those conversations with our colleagues and partners every day so that we can move forward. If we can merge workforce engagement strategies with automation and decision support tools, we will be able to meet the challenges of 2022 for our employees while prioritizing top-quality patient care.”

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Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.

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