Business Transformation

How CIOs Will Drive the Next Digital Health Revolution

Veteran CIO Phil Fasano says healthcare CEOs, tech leaders and boards must continue to innovate to drive business and improve patient outcomes.

The pandemic has affected few industries quite as viscerally as healthcare.

In addition to facing a once-in-a-century pandemic, the sector has come under serious threat from an epidemic of ransomware attacks. Last year, 18 million patient records were compromised in nearly 100 attacks, costing the industry $21 billion, according to tech research outfit Comparitech.

But the industry has also undergone massive technological change (thanks also to the pandemic) with millions of consumers now embracing telehealth and other digital health services.

All of which makes CIO Phil Fasano an important voice for technology leaders as they plot a way forward.

Fasano was executive vice president and CIO for more than seven years at Kaiser Permanente, one of the country’s largest nonprofit healthcare organizations. He managed a $4 billion budget as he drove transformational improvements, many of them firsts for the industry, including electronic medical record systems and mobile applications to improve patient care and staff productivity. He also wrote Transforming Health Care: The Financial Impact of Technology, Electronic Tools and Data Mining

[Read also: How VITAS Healthcare streamlined its software updating and patching]

Since leaving Kaiser in 2014, Fasano has served as a board member and adviser to a number of healthcare start-ups. He has also proven to be a jack-of-all-trades expert in digital transformation and the future of work across industries. He is now CEO of Gigster, a custom software development platform that enables distributed developer teams to collaborate more productively. In addition, he has held CIO roles at AIG, CapitalOne, JPMorgan Chase, and Deutsche Bank. In 2017, CIO magazine inducted him into the CIO Hall of Fame.

Fasano recently spoke to Endpoint about how the pandemic has changed healthcare and what should be high on the digital innovation list for CEOs, CIOs, and board members.

You’ve seen major changes in healthcare during your career. What role has technology played?

About 15 years ago, when I was at Kaiser, the iPhone came out. A luminary there told me doctors will never practice medicine via their phones. And my only response was “We’ll see.”

It took the pandemic to drive telehealth user numbers. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Now we’re seeing telehealth take off, and it’s all because of a key piece of technology that brought you everything in the palm of your hand. Even though Kaiser had telehealth built into its mobile app, alongside appointment bookings and prescription renewals and many other things, it took the pandemic to drive user numbers. Fear is a powerful motivator. None of us wanted to go to the clinic.

What new technologies are driving the next wave of digital health?

We’re experiencing another transformational period that’s hard to grasp. We’ve entered the intelligence era: a combination of data, video, and AI. Put those three things in a box in your hand and you have AI healthcare. AI is able to look at things that doctors can’t because they don’t have time in their days. AI can provide instant answers to healthcare queries. And it’s not just healthcare. In my own company, Gigster, we’re doing things with AI for our customers that are extraordinary.

We’ve entered the intelligence era: a combination of data, video, and AI.

How is digital health improving patient care and outcomes?

Consider neurological screenings for patients who have had strokes. There’s a golden hour for a stroke patient: If someone intervenes within the hour, they have a good chance of minimizing the long-term impact. But many neurologists are at home at night when that golden hour occurs. So you can bridge that gap with technology. As long as neurologists have a high-quality video connection and can see your eyes, they can diagnose you. 

What’s missing from today’s digital health playbook?

From a technology perspective, everything is better, faster, and cheaper today. Yet we’re failing to provide the real-time healthcare that patients need. CIOs thinking about the next wave need to get their organization onto the cloud. They’ve got to get rid of on-premises IT infrastructure, and be more agile and secure in the cloud. And then they should move beyond that to enabling a seamless experience from physician to patient, supported with contextual insights. That’s real-time healthcare.

CIOs thinking about the next wave must enable a seamless experience from physician to patient.

We also need much more technology integration. Many physicians and nurses spend all their time interacting with siloed technology — maybe 20 to 50 different pieces of technology. They’re trying to fill in the gaps and make it seem seamless for the patient. It’s time-consuming, and it lowers the quality of care patients receive.

I’d also be looking at all of the fascinating remote patient monitoring tools that are available now through an Apple Watch and other devices. I’d be looking to integrate data and devices that can help surface information for the care team, or make sure patients get alerts to keep their lifestyle healthy. These systems could also feed into the compliance and quality scores that are required by Medicare.

What role does endpoint management play in digital health security?

Today, you need the right security partners who are proactively looking out for challenges and keeping you at the top of the curve. It’s truly about protecting the person, their personal privacy, and their information. 

You need the right security partners who are proactively looking out for challenges and keeping you at the top of the curve.

If you don’t have a great partner, you’re just not going to get there. It’s too complex, especially with a remote workforce and the explosion of endpoints—laptops, PCs, smartphones, virtual machines, and so on. And then there are the IoT sensors now embedded into critical infrastructure in healthcare. They all need to be monitored, managed, and secured.

What advice do you offer fellow CIOs?

Ultimately, leaders must ensure their organizations have sufficient investment to make a difference in the future of the business. To add strategic value to the overall cost conversation of the company, you have to be a partner and executive adviser to the board. Not everyone’s ready for it. But once you’re thrust into that, you learn very quickly—you better have an opinion.

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray is the Editor-in-Chief of Endpoint. He is an award-winning journalist who has traveled the world covering business and technology. His work has appeared in Wired UK, The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He is a former business news producer at CNN and the former executive editor of Popular Science.