Healing Health Care Tech

Compared to other verticals, the health care sector is mired in ideas of the past. Tampa General Hospital CIO Scott Arnold explains how the industry can make up for lost ground.

What do the retail and banking industries have that health care doesn’t? An edge in technology. Or so says Tampa General Hospital’s (TGH) senior vice president and CIO Scott Arnold.


Two projects that exemplify what technology can do for health care outside of a traditional setting

Joint venture in community health with FLORIDA HOSPITAL

Started: September 2013

Completed: Ongoing

Value to the Business: West Florida Health, a nonprofit jointly owned with Florida Hospital, serves the greater Tampa Bay community. It leverages technology to improve efficiency, using an integrated clinical information technology platform to eliminate variations in care and apply evidence-based medical interventions.

Technology expansion with the University of South Florida

Started: January 2015

Completed: August 2015

Value to the Business: TGH will bring its EPIC medical-records system to the more than 450 physician faculty members of USF. This will give physicians real-time, secure access to patient medical records, increasing interoperability.

“Health care is at least ten to fifteen years behind other industries,” he says. “Yet both health and family are the things that we hold most dear. Health care needs to be investing more in technologies that help us stay well.”

It’s easy to compare health care’s deficits against advances in technology in other industries, but it’s important to keep the stakes in mind—these technologies aren’t simply helping people order a pizza or a book, they’re changing the ways people live and stay well.

That’s exactly what Arnold cites as the primary reason behind the lag in innovation in health-care technology—traditionally, health-care institutions have not functioned in the same profit-centric way as consumer-driven companies like banks, shops, or restaurants. Instead, there’s a disconnect between the patients, providers, and payers; doctors and hospitals are reimbursed for their services regardless of whether or not there is technological innovation, and the money comes from insurance companies—not customers. In other industries, companies provide technologies that ease processes and encourage convenience for users. “Customers can take their business anywhere they want to go if they don’t like the service,” Arnold says. “That’s how other industries have matured technology much more quickly.”

In banking, for instance, it’s easy to transfer money from account to account, or even from bank to bank, because the technological systems support this consumer need in order to remain in business. In health care, it’s difficult to share medical records from provider to provider because unrelated systems are rarely designed to communicate with one another, and some processes are still paper-based. Interoperability is way behind the times. “Many software companies that specialize in electronic medical records spend a lot of energy safeguarding their intellectual property, and there’s very little incentive for health-IT software rivals to connect disparate technologies at this point.” Arnold says. The solution? “A greater focus on robust health information exchange.” This focus could bring together the disparate pieces of a patient’s medical history to help all clinicians provide better care.

Access and mobile technologies also lag behind. Small conveniences like scheduling appointments online would make access easier for countless patients, but it’s not something every health-care system offers. Improvements are happening in these areas as well, albeit slowly. Technologies like telehealth pair digital information with the Internet, computers, and mobile devices to manage health and wellness via video visits. Doctors can diagnose patients with whom they have a running history, and medications are dispatched to the pharmacy electronically. “If it’s hard to get to the doctor because you have three kids and they’re all sick, there are new, emerging ways to leverage telehealth from your own home to do that,” Arnold says.

Home monitoring systems are taking cues from consumer electronics on how to improve. Many doctors can now issue small, less-expensive devices for patients to wear at all times—similar to the popular fitness wearable FitBit—that track and monitor health patterns remotely. Measuring blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen intake, and other biomedical readings can help keep patients and their physicians informed.
“A CIO who stands still won’t be in that job for very long.”

“We’re also invoking technologies to reduce human error in health care,” Arnold says. For example, when a patient is prescribed a new medication, computer systems are used to cross-reference for potential interactions. “If your doctor had an old paper file that was missing a page, they may never know about a possible drug interaction leading to a situation that could make a patient very sick.” With a more streamlined system of checks and balances, errors are drastically reduced.

Arnold admits that while it’s crucial that health care catches up to other industries—and quickly—it’s understandable why the industry has trailed behind for so long, because of the human element of the business. “Other industries manufacture widgets. Health care is human and very personal, so to that extent, I do expect that the change is a bit slower,” he says. “With additional regulation and compliance layered on to it for the purpose of safety, it does give health care a little bit of a disadvantage to move as quickly as other verticals.”

That doesn’t mean he’s not doing his part to help push the industry into the future. TGH has a CEO and governing board that encourage the use of technology to meet its high standards of quality and care. When new automation works, TGH invests deeply and moves fast. According to Arnold, whether it’s new mobile technology or telehealth, every little bit helps.

And those efforts are paying off; the hospital was recently awarded the prestigious Stage 7 designation from the Health Information and Management System Society. Stage 7 is the final level of a multitiered process that measures a hospital’s implementation and utilization of IT applications. It represents the most advanced patient record environment, with just fewer than 3 percent of the 5,400 hospitals in the United States honored with this designation.

In his role as CIO, Arnold encourages other like-minded health-care technology officers to watch and learn from other industries for ways to innovate and think outside the box for patients’ sakes. Embracing change and keeping a close eye on developments in technology are also crucial. “A CIO who stands still won’t be in that job for very long,” Arnold says. Tech leaders should be constantly learning, and at the very least, surround themsleves with experts who stay up-to-date within their fields. “Every fifteen to eighteen months, some tech emerges that disrupts—in a good way—health care and other industries,” he says. “It’s exhausting, but staying contemporary and continuing to move are of the utmost importance.”