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Progress and Collaboration: One Industry Expert’s Perspectives on Clinical Transformation and Health IT Advancement

June 27, 2014
by Mark Hagland
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Annamalai Ramanathan, director of Georgia Regents Health System in Augusta, Georgia, shares his perspectives on the challenges and opportunities embedded in forward progress in healthcare

Among the liveliest of the numerous important sessions at the Health IT Summit in Atlanta, sponsored by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2) was a panel discussion entitled “Achieving the Triple Aim: The Future of Healthcare.” That panel discussion session, held on Apr. 14, was moderated by Cynthia Burghard, research director of IDC Health Insights. The other panelists included Charles DeShazer, M.D., chief quality officer at BayCare Health System; Mr. Annamalai (Anna) Ramanathan, director of clinical transformation at Georgia Regents Health System in Augusta, Georgia, which encompasses the 478-bed Georgia Regents Medical Center, the 154-bed Children’s Hospital of Georgia, 154 beds, and 80 outpatient practice sites; Mary Ford, a senior partner and CIO at the MBC Xpert consulting firm, a division of the New York City-based WeiserMazars tax and audit firm; Sameer Bade, vice president of clinical solutions at the Bellevue, Wash.-based Caradigm Health Solutions; and Bob Schallhorn, vice president of product management at the Chicago-based Merge Healthcare.

During the panel discussion, Mr. Ramanathan made several important points regarding healthcare organizations’ striving towards the goals of the Triple Aim, a concept focused on improving patient care quality, cost-effectiveness, and patient and community engagement, and being promoted by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Anna Ramanathan

When panelists were asked by the moderator how they would define clinical transformation, Ramanathan said, “We define clinical transformation via a two- or three-step process. First, your strategic framework is going to be very important. And that’s something we’re now institutionalizing. And the key part is the integration part. How do I  bring things into my physicians’ day-to-day workflow? I’ve learned that you never force things on physicians or other clinicians,” he emphasized. “So we need to engage them so they see the value of clinical transformation. So part of clinical transformation is engagement with your end-partners and coming up with good formative processes. One thing we’ve been looking at is nurse workflow. How do we move away from the old traditional bell system? How do you leverage technology and keep your costs in mind? We have looked at that as an opportunity.”

Later on in the discussion, Mr. Ramanathan was asked what he thought about collaboration between providers and vendors. “Georgia Regents really has a multi-year relationship” with the organization’s vendor for population health-related software, “initiated late last year. So this has taken the sales pressure off that vendor partner, and allows us to look at things from an outcomes-driven effort, where we end up refreshing the environment regularly. There are growing pains, no doubt; but when you take away the sales pressure, the outcomes are very interesting, and it allows our vendor, Philips, and us to become good partners in best practices. And I like to think that this is a classic effort that you should see in other parts of the country, and even in Georgia. If not, the cost pressure is going to make achieving ROI very elusive, and you’re not going to have solutions.”

After the panel discussion session, Ramanathan sat down with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, and discussed some topics further. Below are experts from that interview.

What are the biggest couple of challenges your organization is facing right now, around transformational change?

One is recognizing the transformation is happening, and it’s happening at a rapid pace; and old rules do not play well. That’s one piece. The next is the skill sets of folks who can move the organization forward to meet the Triple Aim goals. There needs to be executive leadership buy-in, in this new culture orientation. Those are the three things right off the bat—recognition, skill sets of people, and leadership buy-in.

What must CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders be doing right now?

We definitely need to move ourselves away from a pure technology orientation, and understand that we need to become more consulting-oriented towards our customers, and become more business-aware to their needs. So our posture needs to change. And we need to hire the right skill sets to supplement that new posture of having a consulting orientation. And we need to take a hard look within our team, and reinvent our existing resources. And lastly, we need to have a combination of patience and urgency; it’s a fine line.

What will happen in the next few years, with regard to the transformation of organizations towards the new healthcare?

Organizations are going to be forced to shrink and consolidate their resources. At the same time, they’ll be forced to become more innovative and customer-centric. Budgets will be very tight. You might be able to grow a few percent, but gone are the days where you can grow exponentially, as in staff. And the relationships with vendors are going to have to become more collaborative.