Podcast Interview with CIO Jason Wood, Part 1: “Covid Turned Our Business Upside Down.”

September 10, 2020

For healthcare IT leaders, prioritization and resource allocation can be challenging under normal circumstances (that is, if there is such a thing). But when a global pandemic hits, it graduates to a new level. As teams log 100-hour weeks to ensure patients can receive care, whether it’s virtually or at converted clinics, CIOs must decide which projects — if any — can be postponed, and how to proceed.
Sometimes the answer is none, as was the case for the Northwest region of OptumCare. If the “massive conversion” planned to bring up an organization on Epic was delayed, it would have resulted in a snowball effect, according to CIO Jason Wood.
Recently, Wood spoke with healthsystemCIO about the approach his team has taken with project planning, his team’s initial response when Covid-19 hit, and how they’re dealing with the ramifications. He also shared lessons learned, and discussed the keys to leading through a crisis.

Key Takeaways

* Being located in Washington state — an early epicenter of the pandemic — OptumCare Northwest wasn’t just moderately affected by Covid. “It turned our business upside down.”
* The biggest challenge for leadership was the fact that there was no playbook for this situation, and no best practices to be shared, which meant teams had to come together to develop solutions on the fly.
* OptumCare was able to stand up Vivify for symptom checking and patient monitoring and get 60,000 patients on board, which was impressive. But patients weren’t fully educated on what to expect. “There was an opportunity to slow down and lay down a more methodical path.”
* The IT team’s most notable accomplishment was not just deploying video visits, but having it fully operationalized — something that has “real ramifications” in the area of preventative care.

Q&A with Jason Wood, Part 1
[OptumCare – Northwest is part of a large, national network that covers a range of services, including primary and specialty care, urgent care, and surgical care. Based in Washington, it includes the Everett Clinic, The Polyclinic, Physicians Care Network, Physician Care Alliance, Optum Care Network – Washington, and Northwest Physicians Network.]
Gamble:  Let’s talk about your team’s response to Covid-19. What were your initial priorities?
Wood:  Covid definitely turned our business upside down. Very early on — in late January and early February — I remember sitting in weekend meetings starting to plan to switch many of our walk-in clinics to FURI sites, which covers fever and upper respiratory illness, and funneling Covid patients into those site and figuring out ways to bifurcate the patient population so that we weren’t putting our at-risk patients at greater risk. That was one of the big transitions that we made very early on, and that came with a number of business and technology transformations. We changed our workflows significantly.
One thing we did was establish gates at all of our clinics where we had greeters in full PPE, who used laptops and tablets to start the check-in process. Being able to do that outside of the waiting room was highly advantageous versus bringing these folks all into a waiting room to sit together.
Next was the rapid transformation to telemedicine. We stood up 750 clinicians on telemedicine in three weeks. If you would’ve told me we were going to do that, I wouldn’t have believed you. That was one of the big transitions. But throughout that process, it wasn’t like one day we were humming along doing our operations as we...