Healthcare After Covid

The pandemic has created opportunities for fixing healthcare faster. The…

February 06, 2023

The pandemic has created opportunities for fixing healthcare faster.

The CXO Panel at AFCEA Bethesda’s 15th Annual Health IT summit convened in January to consider upheavals to the healthcare sector and to ask a fundamental question: What’s next?

Since the onset of the pandemic, deep cracks in a healthcare system fractured by inefficiency, legacy technology, and poor customer experience (CX) have been revealed. Yet those newly exposed fissures also have let in light, making it possible to see longstanding problems and new ways of correcting them.

The pandemic altered the habits of workers and consumers. It undermined traditional channels of healthcare delivery and forced providers to implement new technologies and protocols, some of which were long overdue. Necessity, it seems, really is the mother of invention.

In a post-Covid world, how does the U.S. healthcare system, of which federal agencies are a large component, deliver quality care, world-class results, and customer experiences befitting America’s exorbitant healthcare system?

A big part of the answer is data. Panelists acknowledged the potential of data to improve healthcare, yet they also conceded challenges. Using data and technology to repair cracks running through healthcare infrastructure won’t be easy. It will require a sustained effort.

The CXO Panel discussed challenges besetting leaders tasked with breaking down data silos, reaching across boundaries, and forming partnerships with other change agents. As much as anything, those leaders must advance the ability of agencies to use intelligence extracted from data to make better decisions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to take one agency, strives to have data at “the point of need and the speed of need,” said Farhan Khan, Director of the Office of Technology and Delivery within the FDA. All programs must be able to align with the mission, said Khan, who characterized the FDA as “mission-centric.”

At a time when security breaches and ransomware attacks have become increasingly common, any discussion of data use must include the requirement for robust cybersecurity. To do otherwise would be negligent and counterproductive.

“There are a lot of challenges with data collaboration—security practices, privacy—but the biggest issue of all is the feeling of risk,” said panelist Nikolaos Ipiotis, CDO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “The biggest driver of sharing data is to make people feel more comfortable.”

Indeed, the focus on technology and IT solutions notwithstanding, the most critical factor in the success or failure of initiatives to leverage data isn’t artificial intelligence (AI) or cloud capabilities. It’s the person who, prior to the pandemic, sat in the office or cubicle next to you.

“For DHMS, it’s about the people,” said Ken Johns, CTO of the Program Executive Office within the Defense Healthcare Management Systems (PEO DHMS). “We must continue to change and improve.”


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