What Makes a Healthcare Organization ‘Future Ready’?

By Matt Phillion

A recent piece in Harvard Business Review discussed the concept of what makes an organization “future ready”: using the right technology and leadership to prepare for a quality future. Surprisingly, the article didn’t mention any healthcare organizations in this category. Does healthcare lag behind? What steps do we need to take to keep healthcare organizations ready to optimize for the future? How are organizations preparing for the future, and is the industry ready to leverage its technology, skill, and leadership for what lies ahead? We discussed this with James Domine, chief technology officer for Avail Medsystems, which provides solutions to connect procedural healthcare professionals regardless of their location through audio, video, and other software.

Because Domine’s background prior to Avail was in the tech industry, he brings a different perspective to the table. “My observation is that healthcare actually embraces a lot of new tech—there’s a lot of micro-adoption of new technology, and there’s a lot of new componentry coming in,” he says. “There is a regulatory pacing to this, but given the potential risk, that’s understandable.”

Taking a more macro view, however, healthcare’s way of working hasn’t changed in a very long time. “It’s a little unfair to say as I’m not a physician, but from an outsider perspective, healthcare hasn’t benefited from some of the collective collaboration macro trends other businesses have,” says Domine. “It’s starting to catch up: The pandemic has been horrible for the world, but from a process perspective, it’s jumped forward several decades of process thinking.”

With his tech industry experience brought to the healthcare sphere, Domine sees potential for massive improvement in areas like equality and accessibility of care. “The ability of modern tech to address equality of access and accessibility to functions is huge,” he says. “Modern communications technology has done a ton in this regard. Embracing those technologies and how we all work day to day has been fundamental.”

Domine draws from his experience in software engineering for a parallel. “The way a software engineer works today, every time I write a line of code, that code is checked into the code base, and before it gets through the gate there’s a process to test it, a peer review of every line of code,” he says. “It’s the same thing for every code base—it’s immediately peer reviewed by someone who is an authority to do so. What’s the equivalent of that level of collaboration in healthcare?”

In his view, physicians don’t yet have the ability to realize that kind of immediate collaboration. “When I think about moving healthcare forward, it’s embracing new ways of working,” Domine says. Specifically, he says, there are vast opportunities to apply the good work being done in communications and video technology to the practice of medicine, particularly for professionals performing procedures.

“Bringing that level of instantaneous collaboration to the physician—the ability to phone a friend, to call a device rep,” says Domine. “Traditionally in healthcare, if you want to learn a new procedure, you fly physician X to location Y. Proliferation of technology has been much slower. Yes, there are opportunities to do that after the fact through recordings, but what you really want is that immediacy of communication.”

Tech that fades into the background

For organizations and providers to best use new technology, they need a certain comfort level with it, says Domine. “It’s about how well you tailor the product or service to make it as unobtrusive and intuitive as possible,” he says. “In software and hardware, we’ve been doing that for years. This is a big opportunity in front of us, taking the mindset from different industries and blending them with innovative, traditional healthcare mindsets.”

In any sort of change, you’ve got to make the technology fade into the background, Domine says. “What’s been interesting to me personally working with physicians—and folks at my company have been working with them for decades—is that a lot of surgeons love getting into new technology, but once you get into the moment it can’t be obtrusive,” says Domine. “It’s got to be simple and it’s got to fit seamlessly into the workflow. It can’t be ‘We’re going to change what you do, Doctor.’ ”

This type of change is less about intrusive or distributive change and more about impact on workflow. Leadership plays a big role in making it happen. “How can we ensure we’re collectively open to opportunities that will enable collaboration or new technology, and how can we ensure that we’re ready to embrace new methods?” asks Domine.

Leadership needs to be open to new technology, and any technology that leadership introduces needs to measure up. It also needs to be standardized. “I’d say the embrace of standards is the most important thing,” says Domine. “If every individual company or system creates its own unique set of requirements, that slows down anyone creating a solution.”

Additionally, leaders must work to enable a mindset change around collaboration. “It’s incumbent upon leaders everywhere to make space for change,” says Domine. “There’s an entire psychological doctrine around change management, being aware that any time we create opportunity for change, we have to create the psychological space for it.”

A cultural shift

Today’s procedures often have many participants in the room—not just the surgical staff, but device reps and other personnel. In administration’s eyes, these additional people might be cluttering up the room, but they also bring necessary expertise, Domine notes. Yet even if they only need to be there for 10 minutes of a given procedure, that on-site presence creates logistical challenges including travel time, scrubbing in, and maintenance of credentialing. This is where new technology enabling participants and experts to “dial in” can greatly benefit culture and efficiency.

“You can spend 15 valuable minutes remotely rather than hours of traveling, getting ready, hoping the procedure is happening on time,” he says. “Those folks are standing around for much of it. There’s an opportunity to be much more efficient.”

Achieving such efficiency could speed up the introduction of new devices, making it more efficient to train staff and offer innovations that can help patients, expand equality of care, and broaden access to newer technology. “Our vision talks about enabling equality of care regardless of where you are or how much money you have,” Domine says.

Providers and leaders will need to dismantle the mental barriers of “We’ve always done it this way” and “We always work with this rep,” he notes. But doing so will make working with preferred colleagues, regardless of location, much easier.

Healthcare personnel will also need to be reassured that remote consulting doesn’t have to remove the personal touch. “This is something we’ve learned: We’re replacing so much of our in-person reactions, and there are times when a lot can happen asynchronously,” says Domine. “We just need to make sure people know that we’re not eliminating something, but rather creating more options for collaboration across the healthcare industry.”

As the pace of technological change increases, complexity in the operating room increases as well. A given procedure may have three reps in the room, one for each of the new devices involved in its performance, for example. Technology to simplify the process of getting all the necessary personnel together can help healthcare make the leap to the next level.

“All the new devices being introduced creates a big training problem, and we solve that,” says Domine. “Sometimes technology has to solve technology’s problems.”

Matt Phillion is a freelance writer covering healthcare, cybersecurity, and more. He can be reached at matthew.phillion@gmail.com