This is a guest post provided by Paula Anthony, Ph.D., Advisor at Next Wave Health Advisors, a Huntzinger company.
Paula Anthony, Ph.D.
Next Wave Health Advisors
Time in Healthcare
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been more than 30 years. In 1983, I started my career working for Amherst Associates in Tampa. Amherst was an early entrant into the decision support tech space and eventually was acquired by HBO & Company. I joined Ernst & Young’s Dallas-based healthcare technology practice in 1985, working in numerous markets for the next 10 years, and lastly, as the Senior Manager responsible for EY’s southwest practice. Jumping at the opportunity to be the first Vice President/CIO of ETMC Regional Healthcare System (now UT Health East Texas), I remained in that role until 2018 when I transitioned into an overall strategy and business development role. During my 23 years at ETMC, the health system grew from five to 15 hospitals with scores of clinics and other outpatient services covering almost 40,000 square miles of rural East Texas.
Time in Current Role
I just joined Next Wave Health Advisors (NWHA) this year, and I remain the Acting Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for UT Health East Texas.
How Did You Transition to Your Role at NWHA?
I have known several of the Advisors at Next Wave for years and respected them and their solid industry reputations. In 2017, I was part of the M&A team at ETMC negotiating the sale of ETMC to a joint venture comprised of Ardent Health Services and the University of Texas. I agreed to assist the new organization, UT Health East Texas, with the transition, and I remain with them in that capacity. However, after 23 years, I am truly enjoying a return to my consulting roots and the pursuit of different opportunities.
What are the Greatest Current Challenges Facing Healthcare IT?
From my perspective, one of the biggest challenges in healthcare is the shrinking access to care in rural markets. The pressures on acute care hospitals to evolve are significant, but these pressures are exacerbated in rural community hospitals. In a world that is moving from volume- to value-based payment models, rural hospitals are particularly challenged as they:
- Don’t have the economies of scale that can help drive down their operating costs
- Often have limited leverage with payors that puts continual downward pressure on rates
- Have so many competing demands for the capital and other resources required to transition to outpatient (or more cost-effective) delivery models
- Lack the sophisticated analytics needed to be nimble in an increasingly data-driven environment.
Rural hospitals are often the largest employer and the major economic driver in their markets, so their closure doesn’t just impact access to care — it can impact the economic stability of an entire community.
This raises several opportunities as to what can be done from an IT leadership perspective to support both the affordability and sustainability of the health system it serves. For example, given hospitals’ generally large physical plant investments, how can IT help to extend the reach of a health system virtually, if not physically? Here’s another: We all spent millions on EHR implementations and digitizing health records, but these systems remain largely transactional in nature and not analytics platforms for strategic initiatives. We have all these data, so why not focus on leveraging them to support clinically integrated networks or other organizational arrangements that allow us to compete for attributed lives and succeed in a value-based world? Even the smallest hospitals and clinics are going to need to understand risk models, and we need to develop the systems and processes to live in that space.
What will be the Next Major Impact Area of IT on Healthcare?
There’s tremendous potential behind artificial intelligence and precision medicine efforts, but these are not the opportunities facing most community providers. Despite the promises of administrative simplification and interoperability, many hospitals still struggle to admit patients properly, and the sharing of electronic health records on referred or transferred patients is often still a function of printing and faxing. Our EHRs are unquestionably data rich and excellent at improving internal processes, but we are not engaging them to their fullest potential to improve care and outcomes over time — not within our own health systems and certainly not across the continuum of care.
Healthcare is increasingly consumer-driven, and patients now expect accessibility, availability, and near real-time communications with care givers. The demands for direct primary care models, telehealth services and app-based clinical interactions are all coming fast — and every one of them is dependent upon reliable, robust, and responsive IT organizations and the solutions they deliver.
What is the Biggest Challenge of Being a Healthcare CIO?
It’s time for yet another evolution of the healthcare CIO. We need to develop, sustain, and manage IT organizations that are agile and responsive to strategies that look very different from the healthcare delivery models we’ve supported in the past. Speed is not usually an adjective used to describe the deployment of healthcare IT, and for good reason. We are charged with ensuring the efficacy and safety of millions of data points that are used every minute of every day to support clinical decision making. And yet, we must figure out how to do this and equip our organizations for a world without walls, one that requires a level of clinical and patient engagement that we are just now beginning to envision, and one that ensures that our healthcare systems will continue to exist in the communities where our patients live.