Nebraska Medical's digital transformation set stage for COVID-19 pandemic response

Nebraska Medical CIO Brian Lancaster outlines 6 lessons about digital transformation and how it set the stage to battle COVID-19.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Digital transformation laid the building blocks that enabled Nebraska Medical to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, improve clinical safety and patient outcomes and experiences.

We caught up with Brian Lancaster, CIO of Nebraska Medical, to talk about how his organization, which consists of a hospital system and academic research at the University of Nebraska, and how it is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conversation covered a lot of turf and Lancaster good insights. Here are the takeaways and lessons.

Digital transformation efforts pay off in unexpected areas. Lancaster credited digital transformation projects for Nebraska Medical's ability to enable remote work, deploy telemedicine and deliver its legacy systems via Web portals. Lancaster said:

We've been working on this for quite some time and fortunately we had done the preparation to allow us to quickly move to keep teaching, keep researching, keep caring while remote. That's kind of the ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Data centers have to be rearchitected. Lancaster said the use of VMware's vSphere stack enabled Nebraska Medical to deliver applications to the user. Last summer, Nebraska Medical focused on deploying Workspace One to deliver applications via the web and mobile client.

Telehealth is here to stay. Lancaster said telemedicine allowed clinical workers to be remote and integrate with electronic health records. He said:

What we did over the course of a couple weeks was shifted all of our scheduled ambulatory principal office visits to be real time video visits and we only basically did that through a Nebraska Medicine app or digital front door and then partnering with our electronic medical record, which is Epic and then also Zoom technologies for the video visits.

HIPAA and good security matters. HIPAA regulations are relaxed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but you still need a strong security posture, said Lancaster. Nebraska Medical's telehealth efforts maintain HIPAA compliance through integration with its Epic systems. That Epic layer insulates video conferencing and integrates with Zoom. Lancaster said:

We want to make sure we have a strong security posture in addition to making sure we can address any HIPAA issues, even if those HIPAA issues have been released or relaxed. Once we let telehealth out of the bottle, I think both our patients and our providers will want to do it because it's extremely convenient. If we allow for a non-HIPAA compliant solution now, it will be really hard to introduce security controls that we can control at some point in the future.

An innovative project may need more runway before the payoff. Nebraska Medical deployed Apple iPad's on hospital floors for electronic health records and improving the patient experience. At first, the iPads weren't widely used. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these iPads were scaled for telehealth to keep clinicians safe and connect patients to their families. These iPads also wound up saving personal protective equipment. Lancaster said there was also a bigger return on those iPads:

It also allows loved ones to have interactions with our patients. We unfortunately had a lot of patients coming to end of life and if we didn't have that telehealth component loved ones wouldn't have had that last moment. They have been a way for healing for the family.

Those iPads and telehealth tools have been adopted in a big way. "We used to have to kind of entice physicians to want to do telehealth. Now, it's basically went from 1-2% of our activities to 100% of our activities. So we're really seeing a widespread adoption," said Lancaster.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)  

The new normal will include remote work and telehealth. Lancaster said:

I think post-COVID-19, nothing goes back to normal, meaning I think our patients and providers who have now been experiencing the benefits of telehealth, they won't go back to the waiting room, waiting 30 minutes for their visit and those sorts of things. They're going to demand asynchronous and synchronous visits and our providers will now want to do that too because they see the value in it. It probably would've been seen as a flop or as an innovation, an R&D project, now it's kind of table stakes.

Lancaster added that the future of work is going to be hybrid on-premise and remote largely due to managing COVID-19. A larger reason remote work will stay is that workers will gain more time and organizations will be able to save space and real estate costs. There are also sustainability benefits to remote work as well as better capital deployment. Survey: CFOs looking to make remote work, telecommuting more permanent | 9 remote work best practices from Verizon's HR chief | Managing telecommuters? Here are 8 management tips

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