Information tech in healthcare is notoriously slow to change, but according to one industry executive, innovation is finally taking off.
By Danielle J. Brooks (Executive Editor, Disruptive Women in Health Care)
Disruptive Women sat down with Kenda West, Chief Operating Officer of Voalte, a game-changing health information technology tool, to talk about her career, how her company is positively disrupting the industry, and the advice she would offer to future Disruptive Women.
Tell us about your background and how you became interested in health information technology.
When I started my career, the field of health IT bore little resemblance to the industry it is today. I had the privilege of growing professionally as the industry developed. I was first introduced to health information technology during my senior year of college, when a large, forward-thinking community hospital in Maryland hired me as a programmer analyst. It was an incredible learning opportunity, and I stayed there for over ten years.
As a member of a very early health IT department, I got first-hand experience implementing virtually every type of system. More importantly, I learned the workflow, the revenue cycle and the business of the hospital. It was a perfect training ground, and it was where I grew to love the mission of a hospital, the sense of community, and the reward of supporting the clinicians who take care of us.
Are you surprised that it took this long for health information technology to take off?
No. The complexity of our healthcare industry is almost unparalleled, so it’s difficult to make it automated, seamless and completely paperless. Health IT has been slowly ramping up over the last 30 years, but the pace has accelerated in the last five years, partly because of government incentives. It’s great that we’re making progress, but breakneck speed is not a good thing either. In healthcare, more than any other industry, hastily or poorly conceived and implemented systems can frustrate caregivers, add expense and even harm patients. We need to respect the delicate balance of cost, time, safety and technological improvements.
What has been one of the toughest challenges in implementing technology in hospitals?
Technology is expensive and disruptive, and hospitals must be conservative when it comes to adoption. They have the responsibility of caring for patients and doing their best to ensure patient safety. Technology developers often don’t fully understand the workflow and the many ways clinicians deliver care. Until technology became so prevalent in our day-to-day lives, many clinicians were not comfortable with it. Now that technology is much more prevalent in daily life, integrating it into the clinicians’ practice or workflow is not as foreign. Many systems and technologies are still not as user-friendly or fluid as caregivers would like, but they are improving all the time. We are starting to realize the benefits of automating medical records and accelerating the retrieval of critical information at the point of care. There is still a lot of work to do.
How is Voalte disrupting things in today’s hospitals?
I was drawn to Voalte because of my experience introducing new technologies into a hospital setting. I admit I have been guilty of installing technology that providers did not want to use, did not work for them, or they did not like. But Voalte delivers a product that meets a real need. Clinicians want to use it to improve a critical part of the care process: communication.
What is one of the biggest challenges in creating a usable care coordination tool?
One of the biggest communication issues in the hospital setting is the “tool belt.” The “tool belt” existed because there was no one device that clinicians could use to reliably communicate and receive alarms. Due to the challenging physical and technical environment of hospitals, it is not uncommon to see a clinician carrying multiple communication devices. In addition to the burden on the provider, this also meant the hospital required different technology platforms to efficiently communicate with its staff on each device. With Voalte, caregivers have the ability to make voice calls, receive alarms and alerts, and send and receive text messages.
What is some advice you can give to an “up-and-coming” Disruptive Woman interested in breaking into the field of health information technology?
The ability to apply logic and common sense to the process of problem-solving and project management is an underrated skill set. I have no clinical training or engineering expertise, but I do have a business degree. I’ve made a respectable living and career by learning about the business of the healthcare industry. I’ve learned to address complex problems and challenges with simple tactics, and translate issues from caregivers to technologists and vice versa.
If you want a career in health IT, learn about the business and the workflows. Learn what nurses do, how they work and what their challenges are. Watch the OR tech who stocks and prepares the OR carts with supplies. Become well-versed in charging and billing. Follow a physician and try to understand what it’s like to walk in her shoes on any given day. Learn about operations, the regulatory environment and the strategies of your organization.
You can’t successfully apply technology to a field you know nothing about. So learn the business. Use common sense. Become a good communicator. Always be mindful and respectful of the work and responsibilities of the caregivers. We take care of them so they can take care of patients. Finally, put in the work. Meet your deadlines. Take on difficult assignments. Admit mistakes and clean them up. It’s simple stuff, but it’s important.
This post originally appeared on Disruptive Women. About the blogger: Danielle J. Brooks writes on behalf of Disruptive Women in Health Care, (@disruptivewomen) a blog dedicated to amplifying the voice of women in the field of health. She is the Executive Editor. She holds a Juris Doctor from William and Mary School of Law and specializes in health IT and health care reform issues.