On Friday, March 27th, the HCI Group was again honored to host Ed Marx, an advisor and expert in digital health transformations as he interviewed executive coach, former CIO of St. Joseph Health, and of the host of “This Week in Healthcare IT” Podcast, Bill Russell. As a coach to key executives in the healthcare industry and host of “This Week in Healthcare,” Russell has spent a great deal of time speaking with experts across the healthcare field. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic he has been conducting an ongoing series of interviews with CIOs from across the industry.
In “Under Pressure: Emerging Leadership Lessons,” Russell gives insights into leading during crisis; provides examples of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic; and makes a few key predictions about the impact of COVID-19 on the future of healthcare, as well as potential outcomes for the massive IT transformations that the industry has undergone in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to Lead well through the COVID-19 Crisis
When asked how he advises fellow CIOs in how they should lead during this crisis, Russell says that he draws upon four key tenants of crisis leadership: Care, Communication, Clarity, and Courage.
“What does leadership look like in crisis? I’m not sure anyone has led through something like this. 9-11 impacted one industry…for the most it was contained. This is impacting everyone, everyone in many countries…People are looking for clarity, for communication…and courage [from leadership] to know that things will be OK.”
Russell believes that first and foremost CIOs must take care of themselves and the organizations they serve. He recommends instituting practices and policies that help manage long-term stress for individuals. Best practices include instituting wellness programs, placing an emphasis on work-life balance, and maintaining a personal and empathetic management style. Russell says that just because there is a crisis, managers shouldn’t do away with smaller scale interactions with employees. Maintain as one-on-one meetings or small group conferencing and keep sending those individual notes and kudos. These kinds of individual interactions create a sense of caring, increase solidarity and strengthen the personal ties that bind individuals to organizations.
Furthermore, Leaders should ensure their organizational structure allows for clean lines of authority and communication from the ground level all the way up to the key decision makers. Clarity of communication is paramount—organizational directives must be clear and simple to follow. Finally, Russell says that leadership during crisis requires courage. Leaders must remain calm, collected, must take decisive action, and must seek innovative solutions to meet challenges.
How Agile Methodologies is Breaking Barriers in Healthcare Transformation
For so long, the healthcare industry had a reputation for being sorely behind in IT transformation initiatives. When asked to evaluate how health organizations have responded to the challenges they are facing today, Russell provides several examples of agile leadership, and how these agile responses have created opportunities to accelerate health IT transformation in the industry. Russell believes health IT is out-performing what people thought possible, and that we are witnessing the emergence of the next generation of leaders in the industry.
“The agility we have shown in the last five or six weeks is unbelievable…The story I’ve been sharing over and over again…is the healthcare organization which only did 300 tele-visits in 2018, and have done over 5,000 in the last two and half weeks alone. We have been hearing that on the VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) side as well. Organizations have gone from no work-from-home policy, from no infrastructure, no run-books, to figuring how to scale it up to work from home… from scratch.”
In response to the sudden rise in telework and telemedicine due to COVID-19, Russell documents some key best practices that he has picked up as part of his conversations with fellow CIOs. It is key for health organizations to establish single points of organizational truth, such as a SharePoint site or an organization dashboard for example. Additionally, Russell urges people not to give up meetings, and to emphasize face-to-face communication using Zoom® or Microsoft® Teams®.
Future Outcomes of Health IT Transformation During the COVID-19 Crisis
“The amount of stuff [health organizations] have done in the last two weeks is equivalent to what we’ve done in the last five years.”
To maintain this astounding progress in IT transformation, Russell says that CIOs need to be 90 percent focused on the present, and 10% focused on the future--maintaining a record of best practices, as well as a roadmap of opportunities for organizational growth which can achieved after the COVID-19 crisis has subsided. Russell believes that a massive “reset” in the healthcare industry is coming in part due to the large-scale economic and social upheaval happening in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.
In response to this reset, CIOs must start laying the groundwork for future organization change now. Ensure the large-scale telework and telemedicine operations established as a temporary emergency measure become standard practice; then explore what a digital future might look like beyond the twin pillars of telework and telemedicine—innovative and cutting-edge alternatives such as digital hospitals.
“We have to rethink the environment we are going into. The new norm is going to be different based on your size, the hit you took in your portfolio, what market you serve…you name it. You have to reevaluate and [project] teams will have to reevaluate.”