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Priorities for health system technology leaders in 2021


At the beginning of the year, Advisory Board interviewed CIOs across the country to get a better sense of their main challenges, priorities, and goals going into 2021. Here’s what we learned from our conversations, and what’s top-of-mind for IT leaders amid a rapidly shifting health care landscape.


AI and analytics

AI and analytics have great potential across the health care enterprise, including in areas such as revenue cycle management, administrative work, capacity planning, productivity, and the clinical setting. Health system leaders should prioritize AI and analytics functions in their systems to support their staff, reduce costs, and improve patient planning and outcomes. Two reasons why health systems should invest in this area now are:

      1. AI can benefit—not replace—clinicians in multiple areas of work.
      Clinicians may be concerned about AI replacing human input, but the reality is that the combined work of human and AI can produce better results than either working alone. The concept of the “magic threshold” (described by Will Showalter, Wake Forest Baptist Health) refers to the point up to where AI can perform tasks on behalf of the clinician, reducing their workload and allowing them to focus on more complex tasks. However, above the threshold, tasks are too complex for AI working alone, and human input is necessary. The magic threshold idea can illustrate how clinicians and AI can coordinate to produce better accuracy and improved patient outcomes.
      2. Most health systems will continue to invest in analytics work for the future.
      The majority of health system leaders interviewed either currently have analytics work in their systems or plan to in the future. The most relevant applications for AI include the clinical setting (particularly in imaging) and process automation functions. Many health systems are actively investing resources in AI functions in both areas. For example, one health system is planning on using AI-enabled clinician productivity tools and digital assistants. They are looking into workflow tools that automate the care process and tools that track patient information and deliver it directly to the physician for seamless information sharing.

Digital experience

One of the themes coming out of the interviews was a focus on digital experience. While digital experience isn’t a new priority for health system leaders, there’s a renewed focus in the wake of Covid-19—even for those that already had a robust digital strategy in place. Going into 2021, health care leaders will prioritize agile and patient-centric designs.

      1. IT teams responded quickly to the challenge, changing the way they’ll work in the future.
      Covid-19 pushed organizations to develop a more agile approach. As Covid evolved, IT teams were asked to stand up technologies and tools quickly. Teams had to be ready to pivot and adjust solutions as we learned more about the pandemic. IT leaders were impressed with their teams’ abilities to respond quickly during the pandemic and many leaders plan to keep up this agile work in the future. We commonly heard that IT teams were asked to:
      • Set up entirely new dashboards to monitor Covid-19 outbreaks in their regions
      • Support remote workforces as employees worked from home (many for the first time)
      • Stand up new telehealth offerings
      2. Patients will be at the center of digital solutions’ designs.
      Organizations are increasingly thinking about technology from the consumer’s perspective as more and more patients start to rely on digital modalities. To meet consumers’ rising expectations for digital tools, organizations want to create a seamless experience across different uses. This tends to be a significant challenge for health systems: instead of progressing through a maturity model for digital transformation, many systems simply cherry-pick elements that are valuable to patients’ immediate needs and fit into overarching priorities. IT leaders are making a conscious effort to integrate elements together, so the patients experience a simple and convenient one-stop platform.


Most organizations expect that remote work will become the permanent norm for most of their IT workforce going forwards, as well as for other business functions like finance, revenue cycle, and human resources. Our conversations with CIOs revealed that for many, the challenge of navigating a remote workforce during the pandemic has not been in its new technology or infrastructure requirements. Instead, leaders have had to navigate the difficulties of implementing these new processes, while also fostering organizational culture amid worldwide uncertainty.

As IT leaders look to expand remote workforces in 2021, addressing team culture and implementing strong change management is at the root of almost every initiative. This change points to two key areas of focus for CIOs and other health system leaders in the coming year:

      1. Expanded talent pools and reduced costs.
      IT leaders have recognized benefits to a majority remote workforce. These include the expansion of talent pools for recruitment, as well as lower human capital costs related to hiring, onboarding, and physical office footprints.
      2. New processes to facilitate team culture, systemness, and organization-wide goals
      Change management will be top-of-mind for IT leaders in 2021. A predominantly remote workforce will necessitate new operational processes to promote systemness, contribute to organization-wide priorities, and foster a new, virtual team culture.

What's next for IT leaders?

The past year has stressed the importance of agility amid change. Going into 2021, IT leaders are carrying lessons learned with them and looking to new areas of growth and transformation. In addition to the topics above, CIOs told us hospital-at-home, cybersecurity, and interoperability will be increasingly important over the next year.

Advisory Board will be researching these—and other—topics throughout the year. If you have an exciting project or perspective you’d like to share, drop us a line at AngersJ@advisory.com.

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