The Healthcare CIO’s Playbook for 2022, Part II: Looking Ahead

By Hillary Ross, J.D. and Nick Giannas

Healthcare heads into 2022 still with tremendous uncertainty regarding how COVID-19 continues to play out and impact healthcare providers and patients. In Part I of this two-part series, we asked leading industry CIOs to tell us what keeps them up at night. Below, in Part II, we ask these same IT executives to look into their crystal balls and tell us what the future will bring.

Do you have any predictions, optimistic or pessimistic, for the coming year in healthcare?

Zafar Chaudry, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Seattle Children’s: “I don’t believe the fallout of the pandemic is over. Pressures will continue on operations, clinical areas and IT support. Digital transformation will continue at an unprecedented pace. Organizations will focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, more than they have done before. CIO skillsets will have to adapt to the new hybrid world of healthcare IT.”

Donna Roach, CIO, University of Utah Health: “I am extremely optimistic about the future of health and care. The pandemic has taught us many lessons concerning addressing the needs of our community and how best to intervene successfully. We have learned to pivot quickly, demonstrate an abundance of care, but also to reinvent how we work and take care of ourselves. There is now a greater focus on mental health and what we can do for everyone in our community. Diversity and inclusion are on the forefront of making sure we have created systems of care to address barriers and increase access. Digital health can play such a vital role in our future direction and it is exciting to be at the forefront of this strategy.”

Tim Tarnowski, CIO, Indiana University Health: “I am very optimistic about the healthcare industry due to the value it provided to society during the pandemic. Healthcare is a very valuable part of every community and I believe it will continue to grow in importance . . . it will strive to deliver the optimal consumer experience. Many new disruptors are already delivering services which they were not only a few years ago. Healthcare will be challenged to recruit, develop and retain its workforce due to the increasing competitiveness for the shrinking labor pool.”

Chero Goswami, CIO, University of Wisconsin Health: “More and more nontraditional healthcare companies will play in this space . . . this will be a challenge and an opportunity. It is for each organization to identify what are its core competencies, where to compete with them, and where to join them and deliver through partnership.”

Lisa Stump, CIO, Yale New Haven Health System: “The amazing progress and adoption of digital tools, spurred on by the need for social distancing and infection prevention, will continue with more remote and virtual care, AI-enabled care and non-traditional care models. The data we generate and analyze will generate new insights for care and cure. The energy and attention to health equity is also driving needed change. Consumers will have more choice, greater convenience and greater access to care the way they need it.”

David Seo, CIO, Nicklaus Children’s Health System: “I think that the healthcare space is going to be a bit muddled this year depending on whether a vaccine-resistant COVID variant proliferates rapidly in the U.S.”

Tony Ambrozie, CIO, Baptist Health South Florida: “I think the pandemic will have long-term effects, all on the positive side for consumers and patients. The pandemic propelled telemedicine from a rarely used capability (2%-3%) to stratospheric usage levels (80%) and then in 2021, between COVID peaks, back down to 15%-25%. The decrease can be explained by providers’ legacy preference to in-person but also by challenges with the technology. The latter will definitively improve and consumers will demand changes in the former, so I’m optimistic we will see a stabilization in the 30+% range, short of some profoundly misguided regulations.”

Paul Conocenti, CIO, Montage Health: “I believe cybersecurity will continue to be a hot topic and breaches will continue to be reported. Epic will continue to dominate the EHR market and they will find new competition from the 3rd party vendor market as they continue to open up their platform for others to integrate innovative solutions that capture the mass population in better managing their care virtually. Epic will become the engine behind the scenes but it will be the innovative apps that capture and drive the digital health transformation.”

“Analytics, RPA (robotic process automation), and AI vendors will begin to automatically predict decisions that used to require time consuming human effort. Manual decision making and routine human tasks will begin to be automated using RPA and bots.”

The pandemic continues to be the main variable that will determine the future of healthcare IT. From the CIOs we communicated with, it is clear that COVID-19, while challenging, is also sparking innovation and creative solutions.