Ambassador of change

HonorHealth’s Jim Whitfill on digitizing healthcare

digitizing healthcare QA with Jim Whitfill

There’s nothing more frustrating for patients than being denied access to their doctors, records, test results, prescription refills, and billing invoices. For this reason, many of the world’s biggest healthcare providers are creating digital patient portals, CRM systems, and mobile apps designed to make this journey easier for everyone.

As crucial as these solutions are, they can be challenging to implement, says Jim Whitfill, chief transformation officer of HonorHealth of Arizona, a hospital network that serves 1.8 million state residents.

A physician and an expert in healthcare organizational culture and information technology, Whitfill views himself as an ambassador of change. He says his primary role is breaking down silos and bridging cultural differences among departments.

We spoke to Whitfill during ServiceNow’s Knowledge 2020 digital event. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.

What does digital transformation mean to HonorHealth?

For HonorHealth, transformation is focused on three core areas. One, using digital to make the patient and provider experience better. Two, innovation as a discipline to bring new technological offerings to our community. And three, thinking about the healthy side of being a healthcare provider.

[Read also: How information transparency can improve healthcare]

The digital piece started with two core ideas. First, how do we make it easier for patients to interact with HonorHealth? We know patients want choices that make things convenient for them and they want digital channels for transactions.

The second digital piece is for physicians. In the U.S., we have spent billions of dollars on EMR [electronic medical records] technology. And yet we have heard volumes about how it has harmed the workflow of our clinicians. We’ve managed to make this whole group of people less efficient with technology. That’s 180 degrees off of the usual outcome with a major IT investment.

How are you measuring your transformation?

Our balanced scorecard measures the number of patients who are signed up to use our mobile app or portal. That measure tracks the investment in getting people to use our platform. In addition, we measure the number of medical appointments being scheduled on our digital platforms with a goal of being in the top 25% of our peers.

How do you see the IT organization supporting the company’s overall business growth and what changes are you putting in place to enable that?

IT needs to be a partner with clinical and business units, not a back-office utility that fills orders as they come in. Our digital solutions for patients need to operate everywhere that our patients are. That can include the tools from our EMR vendor, but we also need to live on the platforms [that patients use], such as mobile devices, SMS, social media, and Internet search.

How is your digital transformation program driving relationships with other senior executives?

The role of the chief transformation officer is to be an understandable conduit towards the technology departments at our hospital system. That office has IT, but also analytics and informatics.

I firmly believe you need to talk about technology in terms your partners can understand. As soon as the conversation switches to technical issues, you will lose them. But if you can keep the discussion grounded in improved quality or improved customer experience or market growth, then we have a much better conversation.

As a leader, I must understand the needs of other senior executives so I can judge if a technology is going to have meaningful impact on things that matter to them.

How have your efforts prepared you for a global crisis like COVID-19?

We spent much of 2019 developing strategies to deliver our tools on a digital platform. We knew the landscape. We knew the functionality we needed to deliver. And we knew the steps we wanted to take. When COVID-19 hit, we implemented more in four weeks than we have done in four years. All of that preparation paid off because we were able to act quickly, implement in multiple streams and fail fast.

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In two weeks we went through three telehealth platforms for a 300-person medical group, but quickly got to the right conclusion for our patients and physicians. In a month we tripled the number of employees working remotely.

What were some mistakes you made and what did you learn from them?

If this about COVID 19, I am not sure we have had enough time to learn what mistakes we have made. If this is about life as a whole, I think my biggest mistakes come from not believing in myself and being influenced too much by external events. I am a humble leader by nature, but leaders need to lead. In addition, the tools you use when you work at a startup don’t work at a 500-person company, and those you learn at the latter don’t work at a 10,000-person company. You need to have different tools in your tool chest depending on the size and the culture of the organization you are working within.