During his career, Steve Wretling, chief technology and innovation officer for HIMSS, has supported the development of numerous innovative projects, including the planning, strategizing and deployment of a telehealth technology platform.
“What really stood out to me in the process was understanding the details of how to provide a virtual visit that resulted in a meaningful patient and provider experience,” Wretling shared. “I found that the technology was completely secondary. In fact, it almost needed to be invisible in that development process in order to get to the point of effectively deploying that innovation.”
Although technology is often touted as the spearhead, Wretling is more focused on the bigger picture at play. "The reality is, ideas can come from the technology side, but the real sauce comes from truly understanding the experience you’ll be providing, the process and how it impacts the patient.”
All patients have an ongoing narrative in their life. A common concern in today’s healthcare culture is that doctors just aren’t hearing them over all the clicking. “Services should be built to be patient-aware,” Wretling stated. “That means understanding a patient’s life is a series of events – not just a login.”
Wretling emphasizes the importance of recognizing a patient’s social and behavioral health determinants through data collection. “There’s definitely a need to reconceive and rethink how we plan for and build systems to be aware of more relevant information,” Wretling said. “When that information is collected, actions need to be timely so we can provide care for them holistically.”
The fact of the matter is, innovation holds immense power, but without a strategy in place to drive it forward, it’s nothing but an empty promise. “Actionable innovation occurs when an organization or group has identified a key challenge, is determined to improve upon that challenge, or eliminate that challenge entirely through new processes or tools,” he explained.
The biggest challenge, he said, is deploying those processes or tools without a concrete strategy in place – especially for larger health systems. “Ultimately, it’s about driving behavioral change that provides an impact. That needs to be at the forefront – knowing what the behavior you’re changing is and why. You need to create a culture of innovation so that it’s not a one-time event, but a transformative culture shift.”
Though the conversations start with technology, educating one another is critical to driving innovative thinking. “Awareness is half the challenge. Once you have accomplished that awareness and that conversation is happening on a regular basis, it’s a lot easier to work together to put strategies in place that can influence new or existing programs or new lines of services, which can open up new avenues for creativity.”
Wretling sees the overall value of health information technology, or HIT, right in the center – within the information. “There’s a bridge across the divide that nearly everyone has in their hand today – their smartphone,” he said, which is a fundamental avenue for information to travel through. “So we really need to be aware of how to deploy and access that information to make better decisions and provide better overall experiences.”
At the end of the day, Wretling shared, it’s about obtaining that information from technology, making that data accessible to patients and providers, and using it to enhance connectivity inside and outside of the care delivery setting.
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Originally published September 27, 2018, updated February 20, 2019