Andy Lehman, CIO and Senior VP of Kettering Health Network, shares his insights into digital strategy, COVID-19, and the future of healthcare technology...
Kettering Health Network is a non-profit, faith-based healthcare network of eight acute care hospitals, one behavioral health hospital, more than 120 outpatient facilities, as well as freestanding emergency centers, on-demand care clinics, and urgent care locations in southwest Ohio.The company's first hospital opened in 1964, named after Charles F. Kettering. An enthusiast of technology and inventions, he held over 300 patents, including the first reliable battery ignition system for automobiles. Charles F. Kettering’s vision was to use the latest technology to care for patients in a community hospital setting.
Fast forward to the present day, and this vision is still very much part of the company's mission. Its digital transformation has enabled it to make advances in the care it provides, meeting its mission while retaining its Christian values. “We believe that caring for patients and their families in our hospitals, physician offices, imaging centres and emergency rooms is sacred work. We take care of the whole person, not just the physical element, but the spiritual side as well," explains Andy Lehman, Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President.
He explains that this mission drives the IT strategy of the organisation. "It is all about improving the quality of life for the people in the communities we serve. Within Kettering Health Network’s Information Systems division, we have a vision statement of ‘Only value’, which speaks to the need for us to maximize value delivery. There's a lot of work many IT organisations do that may not add value, for example fixing broken computers or resolving a network outage. Obviously, we've got to spend time resolving those problems, but if we didn't have those kinds of issues, we could be deploying our resources on priorities to advance the strategies of the organization. Our vision of ‘Only value’ emphasizes value delivery, which ultimately achieves the Kettering Health Network mission. "
Over the last four years, Kettering has implemented several important new solutions, both internally, such as how it transforms data from across the network into actionable information, and externally with its "direct to guest" technology. "We're very intentional about the word ‘guest,’ because when patients come into our facilities, they're typically with somebody, whether that's a spouse, a significant other or a family member. We believe it is as important to engage the support team as much as the patient," Lehman explains. "Our direct to guest technologies are those that we've put in place to try and engage with guests - whether they are patients or family members--to create a great healthcare experience."
This includes telemedicine in various forms, a service that became vital when the COVID-19 pandemic began. "When the COVID-19 crisis hit, we rolled out our direct to guest telemedicine solution across 800 employed providers throughout Kettering Health Network. We saw the number of virtual visits go from 1% to over 40% in about two weeks, because our guests didn't want to travel and were concerned about going to the physician's office. We put in place a solution that gave our patients and their family members the opportunity to engage with their providers and do it in a way in which they felt safe."
As well as these consultations, Kettering implemented physician-to-physician telemedicine solutions in hospitals, where it installed COVID units with strict protocols to ensure the environment is safe for the patient, their family members, and the caregiver. It also launched a service to keep patients and their loved ones connected in cases where someone was unwell with COVID-19 and unable to see visitors.
These represented a huge step forward, as Lehman explains: "It's not just about, ‘hey, we've got a telemedicine solution.’ It's about discovering what the right technology is, and how we bring it across an entire employed physician group to make sure they're comfortable using it. There's a number of parts and pieces that have to be put into place, which we did very quickly, and it was a tremendous success story."
Kettering Health Network’s Information Systems division also successfully moved 3,000 staff members to working remotely in the space of 10 days. "It sounds easy, but it was hard," Lehman says. "We had to ensure they had the connectivity, the equipment and the access to the applications they needed to do their job. This wasn't just for IT, it was call center staff, marketing and human resources, the people who document and bill for services, all those core network teams needed to be set up to work from home. We basically figured out how we could get as many people to work remotely as possible, whether that was just individuals or whole teams, as well as move entire support centers to be able to work from home."
Additionally it had to build the IT infrastructure for testing centers, the COVID units in hospitals, and that of an entire command center that oversees how the network responds to the COVID crisis. They also created supply inventory solutions to assess the number of masks, ventilators and Covid testing reagents they had, and where these were located. "We had to move so fast," Lehman says. "So much of the COVID response was dependent on information systems and IT."
IT overcame the clear challenges, having been prepared for some aspects of the crisis because of its ongoing process of digital transformation. "We have spent the past few years positioning ourselves from an analytics standpoint to be ready for this, and from a digital guest experience, to provide direct to guest technologies. We had put in place platforms to enhance collaboration across the enterprise, like Microsoft Teams. It wasn't like we woke up one morning in March and said, ‘oh, we’ve got to deploy Microsoft Teams.’ We actually started that within the past year. All of these things that we were doing around digital transformation didn't start the day the pandemic was announced, and I'm glad they were in place to meet the challenges."
Strong partnerships were key to implementing solutions like physician-to-physician consultations via telemedicine in the COVID units, which In Touch Healthcare provided. The Doxy.me platform enabled the rapid deployment of telemedicine visits for guests across our employed provider network. Asparia delivered a text messaging service to check whether patients have developed COVID-19 symptoms before coming to an appointment; this is then followed up by the option of a telemedicine consultation if appropriate via Doxy.me. Nyotron provides Kettering with endpoint security solutions at a time when health care networks are besieged by bad actors and hackers. Microsoft not only enabled collaboration via Teams when face to face meetings were eliminated, but also provided a health bot which allowed guests to determine the right level of care based on symptoms. Lehman identified Cisco as the company’s networking backbone. "When you send people home, you have to be able to connect, and our backbone performed flawlessly. All of those vendors played key roles and helped us navigate the waters to do what we did with COVID."
Looking ahead, Lehman believes the changes the company has made will remain long term. “Although the pandemic has had catastrophic impacts across the world, the challenges we faced ultimately led us to meet our mission in innovative ways. COVID was a catalyst that accelerated the digital transformation of Kettering’s operations. Through telemedicine, collaboration platforms, analytics, and direct to guest solutions, Kettering is transforming the healthcare experience.”
All of this is happening at a time when the US healthcare sector overall is undergoing huge change, moving away from the fee-for-service system - where the more tests, studies and other services are carried out, the more the healthcare network gets paid, regardless of outcome - towards fee for value. It's a move that's driving a vast amount of innovation and investment.
"In the next five years, we're going to see this shift accelerate, and it'll start driving initiatives like wellness and keeping people out of the hospital. We'll make sure people stay healthy as opposed to just treating them when they're sick. That's a huge change for the United States' healthcare system, and Kettering has to evolve like everybody else to be successful."