Atrium Health Field Report COVID This Week in Health IT
May 20, 2020

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May 21, 2020: Today’s guest for our Field Report episode is Andy Crowder, Chief Information and Analytics Officer at Atrium Health. Andy has actually been on the show with us once before, when we spoke about building out the health consumer experience. He is a seasoned executive leader with 26 years of experience spanning healthcare, hospitality and engineering technology. Today, we’re going to discuss Health IT’s role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, including Atrium’s approach to communications, data and analytics, technology, and virtual service delivery. In this episode, Andy describes Atrium’s experience of the pandemic, and the role technology has played in conducting meetings, virtual healthcare services, and keeping families connected. We also discuss work-from-home strategies for keeping teams connected and the precautions Atrium is taking to help employees return to the office safely. Andy explains how Atrium is aligning their strategy, optimization efforts, and care transformation going forward, as well as how digital and virtual healthcare solutions can not only integrate into physical experiences, but change the way we view brick and mortar operations altogether. Don’t miss this episode of the Field Report!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Andy speaks about how Atrium handles internal and external communication.
  • Andy describes Atrium’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic for the first 30 to 60 days.
  • The importance of collaboration and data and analytics to support rapid decision making.
  • Andy describes his title of chief information analytics officer at Atrium.
  • The role technology has played in meetings, virtual health, and keeping families connected.
  • Pros and cons of teams working remotely and Atriums strategy for returning to their offices.
  • Atrium’s safety precautions for bringing employees back to the office.
  • Productivity versus collaboration with remote teams and maintaining a sense of community.
  • Aligning strategy, optimization efforts, and care transformation post-COVID.
  • Digital and virtual solutions may change the way we view brick and mortar operations.
  • How virtual experiences could integrate into physical experiences with healthcare providers.

Field Report: Atrium Health

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Field Report: Atrium Health 

Episode 252 – Transcript – May 21, 2020

This transcription is provided by artificial intelligence. We believe in technology but understand that even the smartest robots can sometimes get speech recognition wrong.

[0:00:04.5] BR: Welcome to This Week in Health IT where we amplify great thinking to propel healthcare forward. My name is Bill Russell, healthcare CIO coach and creator of This Week in Health IT a set of podcasts, videos, and collaboration events dedicated to developing the next generation of health leaders.

Have you missed our live show? It is only available on our YouTube channel? What a fantastic conversation we had with Drex DeFord, David Muntz, Sue Schade around what’s next in health IT. You can view it on our website with our new menu item, appropriately named, Live. Or just jump over to the YouTube channel and while you’re at it, you might as well subscribe to our YouTube channel and click on ‘get notifications’ to get access to a bunch of content only available on our YouTube channel.

Live will be a new monthly feature only available on YouTube. How many times I say YouTube in that paragraph? Subscribe to YouTube, we’re going to have some great stuff over there. This episode and every episode since we started the COVID-19 series has been sponsored by Sirius Healthcare.

They reached out to me to see how we might partner during this time and that is how we’ve been able to support producing daily shows. Special thanks to Sirius for supporting the show’s efforts during the crisis. Now, on to today’s show. 

[0:01:14.2] BR: This morning we’re joined by Andy Crowder, the CIO for Atrium Health. Good morning Andy, and welcome to the show.

[0:01:20.0] AC: Thank you Bill, great to hear your voice and see you.

[0:01:22.1] BR: Well, I guess I should say, welcome back to the show. We’ve done this before. Last time you were not with Atrium, you were with scripts so you made the move, how long ago was that?

[0:01:33.7] AC: It’s about nine months ago and it has gone by really fast.

[0:01:37.7] BR: Yeah, a few things – you guys are in the news almost perpetually, almost weekly, with things that you guys are doing. MNA work with Epic and then your COVID stuff, I think before we get into the interview, one of the things that’s impressive is you guys  really have stayed ahead of the communication game, you’re doing a lot of news stories with the local media, you’re doing pulse kinds of things internally, I read a bunch of those stories, they’re fantastic so you’re communicating really well with the community around you, the community of caregivers.

It’s really impressive, give us a little bit of an idea of you know, how you guys approach communication?

[0:02:20.8] AC: Yeah, you know, Michael Parkerson, the chief marketing officer who – I think he’s about three months ahead of me, joining the organization – and part of the strategy, and transformation officer, Dr. Shrestha Rasu. I think I’ve done just a phenomenal job of communication both internally and externally to the organization.

We’ve got agile sprints and huddles going multiple times a day and the content and the richness of that content with our caregivers has just been phenomenal. Dr. Katie Passaretti, Dr. Scott Rissmiller, those that have led the virtual hospital. It has been really meaningful and I think comforting to our community, it’s a place where –  and Gene Woods will say – part of our brightest shining moments in Atrium Health’s history are being witnessed right now in the community and on a national level. Something that’s a real sense of honor and pride.

[0:03:15.8] BR: I want to bring that up, I’d love to interview him at a future time, because you guys have done a great job around that. One of the things I’ve been taking about on the show is, how important it is for the health system to be the trusted source of information for that community.

People are like, I can’t trust this source, but they can trust their local health system and you guys are doing an exceptional job in that area. 

[0:03:41.0] AC: Michael would be a great interview candidate. He’s a phenomenal partner, his office is right across the hall from my mine, when we were in the office. I probably spent more time with him in his team in the MarTech stack and part of our digital components over the past 90 days than I ever did in my past.

[0:03:58.0] BR: Yeah. We’re going to talk about emerging from the pandemic, we’re going to – but before we really get to that, I want to – because we haven’t talked before on the show about this. What are some of the things that – how did you guys experience the pandemic for the first 30 or 60 days.

[0:04:17.4] AC: You know, if I look back, it’s a little bit of a blur still. You have to take times to stop and pause and be reflective. I think for all of us, in leadership roles and frontline staff, at least for the groups that I’ve been engaged with, it’s felt like some of the most meaningful and significant work, probably of our careers. 

The way that our caregivers, providers, and support staff have come together to provide critical service to our customers and communities has just been nothing short of inspiring. What’s been interesting, and we call it either bimodal or agile or whatever you want to say, but what used to take weeks, months, and even a year to get done, we’ve been able to move through barriers and get things done in hours or days. Our virtual hospital was stood up in five days.

It’s been incredibly meaningful and I think significant work that, when we look back at the end of our careers, we’re going to be so excited about the things that we’ve been able to do as a health system and as an industry. I think the couple of things that emerge for me that have been really significant to catapult what we’ve done as an organization and industry, data and analytics to support rapid decision making and communication have been key.

If we wouldn’t have galvanized the leadership team around the elements of the data that guide our actions, we wouldn’t have been harmonized. It’s been meaningful for our analytics, and the I-leaders, our center for outcomes research, the people that have done forecasting work, it has been really significant. I think the other thing that’s been really refreshing and energizing is the collaboration that we have with groups like you, John, our vendor partners that have stepped up, really huge. There are countless names but you know, Epic, and Cerner, and Get Well, and Amazon, even the vendors that would have not normally been there have stood up and donations, our communities, the employers in the local area.

The outpouring of true compassion and sincere giving had just been incredible.

[0:06:28.1] BR: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Your title is actually CIO and something else, isn’t it?

[0:06:35.1] AC: Yeah, it’s chief information analytics officer. You know, I think most of CIO’s feel like they were doing that already but it was a call out to the importance of analytics to guide our decision making, and forecast, and help predict what we do in the future. It’s been so enjoyable to watch those analytics resources, informaticists, physicians, and other colleagues come together and ideate and put solutions out there. It’s been – without the data, you could have made some really very different decisions. Making informed decisions for data is a pretty exciting part of my role.

[0:07:12.0] BR: Absolutely. What are a couple of ways that technology has played a role during the crisis to this point?

[0:07:19.8] AC: You’re watching part of it right now. I think the collaboration suites from Microsoft Teams and some of the other ones, without those technology capabilities, large group mediation, meetings, ideation and those type of things would have been very difficult. Within the firs three weeks, we moved 9,000 people to remote work locations. Quite honestly, the feedback that we’re getting so far and we’re evaluating the long-term strategies productivity is up and satisfaction is eve higher. I think that’s a pretty significant transition.

Virtual health with the sanctions being lifted, some of the coverage parity for telehealth and the other items. We’ve seen a 20x increase in that. In places where either the clinical workflow wasn’t congruent, provider skepticism was still high, our providers have – 2,500 providers brought up on virtual pathways within the first 30 days. It’s just been significant.

Then there have been some emerging technologies, you know, things that you would not normally see in a hospital setting, that we’ve learned from our partners. From leveraging donations from Amazon with tablets to keep families and communities connected because of the social isolation, not being able to see their loved ones in the hospital. Very scary times.

Technology has been able to bridge that gap. Provides caregivers a way to connect with their patients and still keep precautions in place. Social distancing has been really significant in the work that we’ve done thus far.

[0:08:53.3] BR: Yeah, I want to talk a little bit about work form home and those kind of things but it’s been interesting. I probably – I used to laugh at the guy that was growing up with a kid. The clinicians have been like – they’ve been playing MacGyver. They sit there and go hey, let’s take this baby monitor and let’s do this with it, and let’s take this tablet and do this with it, and it’s been really exciting to see them, you know, just be creative with the tools they have.

[0:09:19.0] AC: Yeah, a great interview for you to do is to shout out to Dr. Andy McWilliams in the center for outcomes research, and Becky Fox, our chief nursing informatics officer. They’ve done some pretty significant work to really connect with families and patients in ways, using technologies that you could get off Target or off Amazon.

The stories are just so powerful in the difference it’s made to those families, loved ones.

[0:09:49.5] BR: Your IT staff is working remotely. Let’s talk about how you’re thinking about bringing them back to the office, or if you’re thinking about bringing them back to the office. I mean, what are your thoughts at this point?

[0:10:00.5] AC: I do think it depends on who you’re talking to. We are doing a pretty exhaustive assessment of our enterprise work remote strategy, as almost every organization is doing right now. We moved 9,000 teammates, those are the ones that weren’t in direct patient therapy. We look at the statistics I think IS, is about 90% remote. You know the majority of the feedback that we have gotten so far is positive. 

When we look at our statistics, productivity is actually up. We have been able to stay on track with our core enterprise initiatives, the Oracle Cloud solution that we are doing for ERP. Our Epic initiative, people have been able to get through certification thanks to Epic for lifting those sanctions and providing virtual training for our teammates. I think the benefits are significant. I know personally if you talk to my leadership team, once you get used to the work-life balance and how to put those things in place, the productivity increases are pretty significant.

So for the teammates that we moved remote, predominantly, those back office, call center, contact center, IS, HR, those type of functions we are going to leave them remote until June as it stands today. We’ve got our broad brush assessment going on with the leader, the level and the staff to determine pros and cons, impacts to KPI and cost, and then we would be making some long term recommendations by the end of the month. 

We are also collaborating with all of our local community leaders as part of our outreach to them from an employer support point of view and that’s been meaningful. 

[0:11:32.7] BR: Yeah, I am with some of my clients, we have started to craft surveys, to people. I think it is surprising, some CIO’s to think wow, people really love this, and they do. Generally speaking, it’s new, it’s different, and they are enjoying work from home, but the thing that is surprising them is just as many people are saying, “Hey, I’d like to continue to work from home.” There is a whole bunch of them that are saying, “They got to bring me back to the office. I miss the face to face. I miss being with my colleagues.” 

So it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Have you guys started to explore safety precautions if we do bring them back to the office? 

[0:12:11.8] AC: Oh yeah of course, there is all of the – anything from alternate work days, making sure that you got the facility set up for social isolation for those that do – that are required to be on site. There’s a percentage of our staff that have to be on site, so we put those precautions in place. Hand hygiene, appropriate PPE, looking at the way the facilities are outlined, are laid out, symptom tracking, and tracing those that have tested positive, all of those things are in play right now. 

[0:12:43.7] BR: Yes, so you guys have a lot of things going on prior to this. All we had to do is just take a look at the news. You had Epic, you had some Oracle stuff, you guys are in a mixed environment with your MNA, you hand up with some Cerner and some other things in play. So you were really brought in there to harmonize that environment. So do you tend to – first of all, I mean what is the status of that work, where do you think it’s going to go at this point? 

[0:13:18.5] AC: Yes, so our teams have done – I couldn’t be prouder of them, they found ways to get work done and – not in the way that we did them before. So the way that we run meetings, the way that we integrate with our Epic teammates, or our Oracle teammates to go get build done, and thankfully, all of those initiatives are on track. Quite honestly, under budget in certain areas because we are not doing the travel, and the travel is a pretty significant component of it. 

So I think that there are those that do miss some of the time with their colleagues and teammates. I was talking to colleague at work the other day and he was mentioning that productivity increases in certain areas, but also what’s it mean from collaboration and pre-collaboration? So I think we have some work to do to figure out how to keep that sense of community and connectedness there. We’re certainly going to leverage the best practice from outside of industry as well. 

There are many of those that have been well ahead of us for work remote type configurations and we’re going to leverage all of that as we can. 

[0:14:25.4] BR: So, you know, coming into this, we were really different environments coming out. Do you anticipate some – I mean I am sure there is going to be some new products, post-COVID projects that kick in. How do you intend to prioritize the work going forward to make sure that really it can get all done? 

[0:14:43.5] AC: Yes, so you know early on when I joined the organization there is a significant focus on IES governance and alignment to leadership structures. We put that in place the first couple of months and it has been really instrumental in helping us prioritize our long-term roadmaps and our short-term tactics and strategies. Whether it is an Epic initiative, reimagining our digital front door, MarTech stacks, communication tools, whatever it is. 

With the alignment of the strategy and transformation office with Dr. Shresta and Shandra Peterson, you know we had a strategic planning process and now we are in what they call the rapid scanning plan. I think they have elicited some 650 to 700 ideas coming out of COVID, which will run back to our governance processes, and our CEO council, to determine what are those optimization efforts we have to do coming out of COVID and which ones are part of our next normal? 

What does our future look like as it relates to telehealth, and how we look at virtual compared to brick and mortar? Really around care transformation, and that is an exciting place to be in right now. 

[0:15:49.1] BR: So you were one of the first health systems to sort of announce a digital model coming out of this, and COVID-free areas for care, and those kind of things. You may or may not be able to do this but, what are some of the – I mean new ways of thinking about the waiting areas, obviously telehealth expansion, what are maybe some other things you guys are throwing around right now? 

[0:16:15.1] AC: So I think that you know if you look at the essence of what we are trying to do, it is really around safety, convenience, and access for our customer base. Whether that is leveraging self-triage capabilities, so that people can get anytime-anywhere access to the information that they need. Our partnership with Microsoft for the health bot as almost a million, 1.3 million messages done so far. That is instantaneous for consumers to get self-triage information. 

And then integrated in with our clinical pathways as new information comes out, the ability to adopt those things, to guide people to the right place, has been significant. Otherwise, those things would have resulted in a phone call at a time when volumes were peaking out of concern and fear for COVID spread. I think you will see us – at times you’d go, “What could virtual do for me?” maybe second or third in some of your strategic planning. 

I think now digital and virtual are going to be at the front of that and we’ll really look hard at our bricks and mortar. How we expand may be very different moving forward. 

[0:17:21.9] BR: Yeah, the thing about virtual, and you and I have talked about this before, and I talked a lot about them with a lot of CIO’s. It is such a better experience, you know check-in for traditional is we walk into a room then we sign in, then we get forms and questionnaires handed to us on a clipboard and then for check out, you go back and stand.

I mean the virtual experience is just so much more elegant in terms of checking in online before you get there. Forms and questionnaires filled out before you get there. Check out and documentation all given to you online so you review it. You can even include videos, you know billing and payment. So do you see that being integrated and really changing even the physical experience moving forward? 

[0:18:05.3] AC: Yeah, I do. I do think though that the feedback that we have gotten, I think 1,200 free form comments in a very short period of time. You know they like the convenience. They like the anytime-anywhere, they certainly like the not traveling into the office, and absence of some of the repetitive forms, but there are places where you know it is still a business about human interaction and care and there are going to be places where you still have to provide that. 

So I think making sure that people have a choice is really, really key in how we do these. But you know from how you approach the building, whether you go straight to a room without even interacting with someone, all kinds of things I think are going to change. Things that would have been taboo or off the table for even consideration, are now going to be conversations where we ideate and implement a lot faster than what we have ever done. 

[0:19:04.2] BR: Fantastic. Andy, thank you for your time. I am looking forward to just continuing to highlight the great work that is going on at Atrium. You guys are really, I think, doing some groundbreaking stuff and really leading the industry and I appreciate your time. 

[0:19:19.3] AC: Yeah, thanks for all of your help and support and for the collaboration of everyone else in this industry, Bill. Have a great day. 

[0:19:24.0] BR: You too. 

[0:19:25.1] BR: That is all for this week. Special thanks to our sponsors, VMware, StarBridge Advisors, Galen Healthcare, HealthLyrics, Sirius Healthcare and Pro Talent Advisors for choosing to invest in developing the next generation of health leaders. If you want to support the fastest growing podcast in the health IT space, the best way to do that is to share with a peer. Send them an email, let them know that you value and you’re getting value out of the show and also, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel while you’re at it. 

Please check back often as we continue to drop shows until we get through this pandemic together. Thanks for listening. That is all for now.

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