Mount Sinai CIO: Resilient teams key to Covid-19 pandemic response

Instilling a culture of resiliency in an organization may be its most important defence amid a crisis.

That’s according to Kristin Myers, executive vice president, chief information officer and dean for information technology at Mount Sinai Health System, who saw firsthand how important it was to have agile teams during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last April when New York City became the epicenter of the pandemic, Mount Sinai Health System found itself overwhelmed. Like other organizations in the city, the health system had to adapt quickly, and IT played a key role in that process. But rather than change Myer’s priorities as CIO, the Covid-19 pandemic reaffirmed them.

In a wide-ranging email interview, Myers discussed her IT priorities, goals for the year ahead and the technology solution that was invaluable for her in 2020. Spoiler alert: It’s not Zoom.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Question: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your view of what to prioritize as an IT leader?

Kristin Myers: Though Covid-19 has significantly impacted our health system, it has not changed my view of the key IT priorities. Instead, it has further heightened and accelerated the need to drive forward my key priorities of digital transformation, data and analytics enablement, and cost optimization.

The expansion of telehealth and digital tools was very apparent during the pandemic, where virtual visits exploded from about 20 to around 4,000 visits a day. Research teams also needed to quickly access and analyze data to fast-track new forms of Covid testing and treatments.

The financial impact of Covid-19 has increased our focus on cost optimization, leading us to conduct a deep review of operations, including contract renegotiation/cancellation, application portfolio rationalization, contractors, etc. IT will concentrate on these areas as high priority to continue supporting Covid-19 efforts.

Question: What was a key lesson you learned in 2020 that you will take into 2021? 

Kristin Myers: The one thing that really stood out to me in 2020 was the importance of culture in the organization. I will invest more time and energy into driving IT towards a cultural transformation of resiliency and innovation. A culture of resiliency is being agile and being able to adapt quickly to change. A culture of innovation is establishing a work environment that fosters innovation, creative thinking and collaboration.

Having an organization [be] both resilient and innovative will enable [it] to transform itself quickly to achieve clinical, business and technology objectives. My goal is to instill and integrate this resilient and innovative culture into the organization where it becomes part of day-to-day operations.

Question: What was one piece of technology that was invaluable for you in the past year?

Kristin Myers: With the sudden shift to a remote workforce due to Covid-19, it quickly became clear that communications was the key to ensuring continued operations and collaboration. We heavily utilized multiple means of communication, with Microsoft Teams being one of the primary internal communication tools. The Microsoft Teams platform serves as our enterprise collaboration platform and provides chat functionality, call functionality and joint collaboration on documentation. The usage and value we derive from Microsoft Teams has continued to increase.

Question: What are your main goals for the year ahead?

Kristin Myers: My main goals for 2021 would be to focus on clinical support, operational optimization and cost reduction initiatives. From a clinical support perspective, IT continues to be a key enabler for our clinicians, educators and researchers. With our top priority being Covid-19 response and support, we also will continue the digital transformation for our organization and patients, and drive towards a data-driven organization through the execution of our enterprise data strategy.

We will also look to optimize our IT operations through automation, organizational realignment, cloud journey and service delivery optimization.

Lastly, cost optimization continues to be a key theme with a focus on our contracts, application portfolio rationalization and sourcing strategy.

Question: What impact do you expect the new administration to have on health IT policy? Any predictions for the next four years?

Kristin Myers: The new administration will definitely have a significant impact on health IT policies, especially with regard to Covid-19 in the short term and transforming the healthcare system in the longer term. The initial priority would be around leveraging technology to help support Covid-19 efforts and expedite the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.

In the next few years, I expect continued focus on telehealth and remote patient monitoring tools and services, expansion of interoperability and health data exchange, increased cybersecurity defense for healthcare data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and continued promotion of healthcare technology innovation.

Photo: Mount Sinai Health System

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