7 rapid-fire Qs with Ascension’s innovation chief Eduardo Conrado
As executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer at St. Louis-based Ascension, Eduardo Conrado has led several tech-based initiatives over the past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From transitioning employees from in-office to remote working to launching digital health apps over the course of a few days, Mr. Conrado told Becker’s Hospital Review that “speed” has been one of the IT accomplishments he has been most proud of during the pandemic.
“We got the technology in place to transition 30,000 associates from in-office to remote working in just a handful of days, a remarkable achievement,” he said.
Here, Mr. Conrado shares his rapid-fire insights on digital transformations at Ascension and across the healthcare industry in response to the pandemic.
Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Question: What COVID-19 data dashboard do you find yourself checking the most?
Eduardo Conrado: It has actually changed throughout the pandemic. It started with personal protective equipment as we were working on creative ways to procure needed supplies. Then watching the hospitalization volumes and forecasts for COVID versus non-COVID-19 patients helped us see which areas might spike next and if our preventive and critical care volumes were returning. Now vaccine volumes are important.
Q: If you had to choose just one, which one of your organization’s IT achievements has made you the most proud during the pandemic?
EC: The word that comes to mind is speed. We got the technology in place to transition 30,000 associates from in-office to remote working in just a handful of days, a remarkable achievement. We proactively managed new security threats with minimal impacts and downtime, and we made both the consumer and associate experience easier by developing a range of new digital apps required to deliver care remotely – sometimes creating a whole new product over a weekend.
Q: In which ways do you think the pandemic has catalyzed innovation in health IT?
EC: We saw a marked change in the end-to-end patient experience as multiple touchpoints went digital with a preference for contactless interactions – scheduling, mobile registration, checking in at home and, of course, the physician visit. For those who choose to visit medical offices and emergency rooms – or must do so based on their conditions – digital tools are enabling a better experience there with features like a waitlist capability that helps patients avoid waiting rooms and instead show up at their allotted times and fast-pass directly to the assigned exam room. In addition, remote patient monitoring capabilities allow patients with an ongoing illness to return home, yet stay closely connected to clinical resources as they recover.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and confirmed our thinking around digital health. It’s clear that virtual care and remote patient monitoring are both here to stay, and that provides tremendous clarity for our technology strategy.
Q: How do you think the pandemic has shined a greater light on predictive analytics?
EC: During the pandemic, Ascension leaders got a deeper appreciation for the value of data analytics through some critical tools delivered to help support decision-making at both the national and market levels. For example, we collected and trended publicly available data on confirmed cases, testing, hospitalization and deaths – and matching that with county-level information for each of our markets. This helped us keep a close watch on the outbreak across the globe and in our local communities. We created capacity forecast models, running three scenarios every day to predict the possible capacity constraints for each market. A variety of dashboards on issues like supplies tracking also have been valuable.
Applying data science will improve and enhance new models for clinical trials, earlier risk detection, more accurate diagnosis, faster drug development and better treatments, all to the benefit of patients. It also will play an important role in improving operations, accelerating value-based care and enhancing models that foster collaboration in the healthcare industry.
Q: How would you most like to see health IT further adapt to the pandemic?
EC: IT will continue to move into the end-to-end experience space to fully integrate both workflows and data across sites of care with a focus on value-based care and population health accelerating the tools to improve care and lower total cost of care while improving patient experience.
There’s also tremendous opportunity for using traditional and non-traditional data, such as personal history of COVID recovery, community syndromic surveillance, consumer time and location data, person-person proximity data surrogates, combined with comprehensive vaccination data at the individual level, to help understand community risk, better anticipate hot-spot emergence and further refine specific consumer cohorts for vaccination prioritization. These insights will be important to reducing near-term pandemic burden for individuals and communities as well as sustain and improve their longer-term health and wellness.
We’re committed to delivering personalized and compassionate care for all, especially those most vulnerable among us. Predictive analytics can help us with data on social determinants of health like housing, food and transportation to support populations that are less likely to get care they need.
Q: What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about your innovation team’s response to COVID-19?
EC: Collaboration. I’m proud of the way Ascension associates worked so closely across disciplines – data science, traditional IT, product development, contact center – all worked together collaboratively and quickly to respond to the pandemic.
Q: What’s been the biggest roadblock to COVID-19 innovation?
EC: Our innovation teams will be happy to return to the office for more in-person interactions. We’re grateful to work safely at home and have made it work quite well, but we believe the value of face-to-face collaboration can add a deeper level of connection that is important when reimaging how we can serve others.
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