Penn Medicine CIO: Looking back at 2021 helps shape strategies for 2022

I’m not the first to say, “What a year it’s been!” The emotional roller coaster associated with the pandemic, lockdowns, virus testing, vaccine mandates, remote work and re-openings – only to be set back by the Omicron variant – has challenged us all. But throughout this tumultuous year, our IT and information services departments across the nation have persevered and risen to the challenge in supporting healthcare.

In addition to the normal day to day activities associated with keeping a healthcare institution running, the unanticipated responsibilities of assisting the pandemic has been layered upon us.

In short order, electronic health record modifications have been introduced, customized COVID-19 reporting systems have been developed and human capital management systems have been tailored to support employee vaccine tracking.

While these efforts were being addressed, our desktop, clinical engineering, and other entity specific personnel were on the front lines supporting our clinical users. Through it all, our teams have remained remarkably committed and resilient.

These characteristics continue to be traits that further separate healthcare IS teams from counterparts in other industries. The commitment dedicated to the healthcare mission and support of a cause larger than just a quarterly dividend or profit/loss statement is one of the key differentiators of our resilient employee workforce.

So where do we go from here? Recognizing that today’s new normal is anything but normal, I believe we need to continue our focus on those that have taken us to this point, our workforce. Times are changing. And for those of us that have been in leadership for quite some time, we need to adapt with the times. Without strong and stable teams, our ability to react to the ever changing environment is virtually impossible.

I adapted my personal leadership style to not only engage my leadership team for insights and guidance, but to also include much more of the front line staff who were particularly hard hit from the changing environment.

Challenges such as virtual schooling, remote work, family member illnesses, and fear of mass transit commuting are front and center concerns for each of our employees.

As a leader, I know that I must be more in tune with how best to support all members of our team. Ongoing town hall meetings, employee council forums, in-person/virtual discussions, and resource retention interviews are all instrumental in providing a balanced viewpoint of what our team members are facing.

Going forward, it is apparent to me that the nation and the world will continue to struggle with the ever changing impact of COVID-19. Despite the development of vaccines and other therapeutics, the virus seems to remain a step ahead of our ability to eliminate it. As a result, our approach is to continue to zero in on the needs of our team members.

Remote work remains viable where possible, broad and consistent communication keeps our associates informed and supported, and providing employees with the opportunity to achieve their professional goals continues to be a winning strategy for most of our staff. 

Without strong and committed teams, achieving the technology advancements that our industry desires will simply be unattainable. Areas of opportunity include, but are not limited to continuing to leverage data analytics to advance patient care and research, enhancing EHR capabilities, supporting hospital and physician practice expansion efforts, further securing the computing environment, and using artificial intelligence algorithms to proactively support patient care and operational efficiency.

Health systems across the globe are challenged to provide care in the most volatile and unpredictable times our industry has ever known. The front line clinical workers continue to bear the brunt of these challenges and should continually be recognized for their herculean efforts.

Enabling and supporting these caregivers is a primary role of our information services team. Strong IS teams enable strong clinical care delivery, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I’m proud to recognize my team and the many others that have risen to the challenge and remain strong throughout this pandemic.

Mike Restuccia is the chief information officer of Penn Medicine.

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