Season 3: Episode #96
Podcast with Tony Ambrozie, SVP and Chief Digital Officer, Baptist Health South Florida
In this podcast, Tony Ambrozie, Chief Digital Officer of Baptist Health South Florida, shares his journey and learnings embracing digital in healthcare. Transformation in any sector requires sustained effort, a budget, a cohesive team and most importantly, a well-drafted communication plan.
Digital transformation is not easy – setbacks are inevitable. When digital health tools add to the physician’s workload, the rate of adoption slows down. When organizational processes and mindsets don’t adapt, mistakes are unavoidable.
With his deep background in consumer-oriented industry sectors, Tony brings a heightened appreciation of the gaps in digital patient engagement and how to approach the challenges. Take a listen.
|01:18||About Baptist Health and the current state of your digital health transformation initiatives.|
|04:55||What were your initial impression of healthcare and where we are as a sector in terms of consumer enablement of digital experiences? What are your top priorities?|
|07:19||What do you see as stark examples of the difference between your previous experiences and healthcare? Are there structural issues with healthcare? If yes, why is it so broken?|
|10:17||When designing digital experiences, it’s imperative to consider the clinicians’ experiences. The biggest challenges here are increasing adoption and awareness. What can lead to better adoption among the traditional community?|
|14:58||In the last decade, some physicians have been worn down by the instrumentations and layers of technology sitting atop the charts and trends. Skepticism has increased especially if this adds to workloads because they don’t have enough time. How do you look at the technology solutions landscape when you're trying to address this?|
|21:48||What does the governance model for driving digital health at Baptist look like?|
|24:11||How do you make sure all stakeholders are working together in the same sandbox and driving organizational objectives?|
|25:08||What are the learnings you'd like to share with the audience?|
Q. Please tell us about Baptist Health and the current state of your digital health transformation initiatives.
Tony: Baptist Health is a regional system provider in South Florida with about 10 hospitals and approx. 20,000 employees. It’s a really big presence in that community — I have people who work for Baptist and were born in Baptist Hospital!
In terms of going digital, the Baptist executive team and some of the influential members of the Board with experience in commerce and digital platforms, had been discussing digital and the sense of sustained and coherent efforts required for transformation, for some time. I was brought in into Baptist as the Digital Information Officer to ensure a laser focus on driving digital transformation for the entire organization and to work with clinical, operations and all the other constituencies.
About three months into my tenure, I put together a digital strategy and capabilities’ roadmap covering roughly the next 12 to 18 months. It’s important to have an overall strategy. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t tell where to turn. But that strategy cannot be all-consuming to the cost of executing. That’s why having a roadmap of capabilities and features, and executing it is very critical.
For us, the focus would be on consumer digital experiences, first, followed by clinical experiences and then, the digital experiences for operations and other groups. We started executing this 3-4 months ago and decided on dedicated funding for the program that was focused on building and rebuilding experiences regarding telehealth. Along the way, we learned and validated from the original assumptions that we didn’t know, and we needed to know in order to change. So, that’s roughly where we are, now. We are building momentum in terms of both, building capabilities and talking about digital transformation inside the organization.
Q. There are three aspects of your mandate — consumer digital experiences, caregiver experiences, and how to enable the organization, digitally. What were your initial impressions of healthcare and where we are as a sector in terms of consumer enablement of digital experiences? What are your top priorities?
Tony: I came into a consumer-focused company from Disney, Disney parks and before that, American Express. While these had very similar focus, clearly, healthcare providers, doctors, physicians, and nurses were more intensely focused on the medical care for patients. The pandemic has shown the relentless and ultimate dedication of medical providers to patients’ lives, well-being and health. However, we must note — compared to other industries — the digital experiences before the encounter, after the encounter, maybe even during the encounter.
Think about the Amazon shopping experience. Ordering a bottle of water on Amazon is nothing compared to healthcare. But still, think about this. If instead of this Amazon experience, you spend time putting down a list, then, get on a call, wait for 30 minutes, talk to somebody, spend another 30 minutes trying to explain on the phone what the problem is, what you want and then, wait another three weeks. All this to discover ultimately that you did not get what you actually wanted but something similar. That’s kind of where we are today because of the more than imperfect digital experiences.
Q. What do you see as stark examples of the difference between your previous experiences and healthcare? Are there structural issues with healthcare? If yes, why’s it so broken?
Tony: Great question and that’s something we’ve been asking ourselves because it’s a combination of factors. So, I’ll put the objective factors aside. You have this interesting dynamic between patients, providers, and payers — a kind of strange arrangement and buying or ordering things is impacted by that. You have to validate the insurance first, and therefore, it’s not as easy as it would’ve been if you’d used your American Express card. So that’s an objective factor. It’s part of the system but needs to be worked on to improve.
There are some things that we can do on the more subjective part — I don’t think this aspect has been focused on for the past few years and frankly, there are still some in the healthcare industry who maintain that patients don’t come here for the mobile app. While that’s absolutely true, it’s equally true that nobody goes to Disney just to use the mobile app. However, without that mobile app, probably they wouldn’t use American Express either. So, how we manage our services, the access to our services with the consumers is important.
At some point, it’s also competitive advantage. All other things considered equal, consumers and patients would choose and use your experience to a more difficult one. The expectations for the consumers have been changing for a while, and some of it is driven by their other experiences and their normal lives. And they want to be part of the focus or the center of the experience, want to have control and information to make decisions about their care. They expect the same type of experiences as elsewhere.
Q. When designing digital experiences, it’s imperative to consider the clinicians’ experiences. The biggest challenges here are increasing adoption and awareness. How can you drive this among the traditional community?
Tony: When I was talking about consumers earlier, to a certain extent I was also thinking about the clinicians having great digital experiences in addition to the normal ones. Do you want to go to the system that has horrible technology and is painful or would you prefer one that’s got all things considered? That’s the second focus aspect for us.
I would say that a lot of digital adoption is driven by demographics. Lifestyle and capabilities are equally crucial drivers. Clearly, the younger generations – those up to and in their 40s have experienced eCommerce – so adoption is basically natural with video calls for everything including a medical encounter subject to other limitations.
Some of the more senior folk whether they have the experience, knowledge or some form factor limitations, they’d also prefer a big screen versus a mobile. So, the life cycle is folk who are very much into the social media of this world. It feels natural; just another interaction and that’s true for both consumers and providers.
For the providers though, there’s a little twist. Digital in healthcare requires process changes to be able to provide benefits. Now, some individual providers probably don’t like these because they may not be convenient and so, they will stay away from the digital. Some provider systems will skew that process. Those process changes may simply be too difficult. There’s inertia and maybe politics. So, when digital is introduced, it’s probably is more work and hassle than it’s worth it. Think about the charts that really are problematic for physicians. When we speak of the third element, which is the quality of the experiences, I think, for both consumers and providers, the quality of the technology and the digital experience have been great but when we speak of the physicians, we all know how painful the charts are for them.
Q. In the last decade, some physicians have been worn down by the instrumentations and layers of technology sitting atop the charts and trends. Skepticism has increased especially if this adds to workloads because they don’t have enough time. As the CDO, how do you look at the technology solutions landscape when you’re trying to address this?
Tony: We don’t want to deal with something that makes more work for us and for physicians. Especially during crises, when things compound in terms of technology landscape, it’s interesting to see how the interactions shape up because you have some of the same type of players — the big tech, the established traditional technology players (distinct from big tech) and then, the older startups. There are some differences in interactions but it’s not very clear what their strategic plan is other than maybe selling more cloud and devices.
Take Google, for instance. They’re possibly reducing their efforts in healthcare or pulling back but while they’ve been in charge, I haven’t seen very much other than very marginal capabilities. If you also look at the Haven — the joint venture between JPMorgan, Amazon, and Berkshire — again, what they’re trying to do isn’t very clear. Apple, in contrast seems very focused on additional health capabilities and their devices, but it’s relatively limited. The Apple Watch is slightly different here. We like some of the health capabilities that provides in terms of established providers.
And in this category, I would say there are the EHR vendors, too. Some of them are very successful, but all of them have somewhat old technology stacks. They’re trying to be all things to all people and this is reminiscent of the ERP and MRP space. They’re slow to market and some of them are still dreaming of closed platforms with customer in. They’ll have to change simply because of the other two categories and the fact that the world is changing and finally talking about startups, lots of money, VC activity etc.
It’s somewhat probably scattered and that’s part of the way it works but I see two different and somewhat opposite categories here. On the one hand, there are some who are certainly trying to emulate OR to build a comprehensive but closed platform. They look at presumably the big vendors and what worked for them. They’ll try it for themselves — either buy the entire platform or their product. Probably in the best case, there’s a doubt about long-term financial viability. On the other hand, there are companies that are very narrowly focused and they don’t integrate very well into the ecosystem. They get the work done and product launched successfully but in an independent fashion.
However, now that we’re bringing in the identity/authentication, how does that work? I’m not going to force the consumers to put their data into a system just because I already have that data. So, it just doesn’t make sense as a realistic approach. I think the startups should focus on very specific capabilities and execute them well, but also have APIs to integrate at all levels in the rest of the ecosystem.
Q. You’ve got multiple stakeholder groups to work with and you have to drive change in the organization. What does the governance model for driving digital health at Baptist look like?
Tony: I structured the digital program as a place for everything to converge in a natural and structured way that has a strategy, scope, priorities and a roadmap for no more than 12 to 18 months. We also got dedicated funding for the program as a concept. In certain places, the digital investments may be very hard to manage but this was one program, so there’s a long-term funding bucket. We got the bucket and the money required, in tranches as we went along. There is a digital council that I chair with very select stakeholders and thought leaders from the organization — the clinical and operational sides etc. A very important and equally critical point is to have a very comprehensive and increasingly well-developed communication plan — whether with artifacts or internal wikis or live presentations and even demos to a variety of different constituents.
Q. How do you make sure all stakeholders are working together in the same sandbox and driving organizational objectives?
Tony: It’s important that digital transformation is not looked at as born-again. We have the digital council, but there’re also a number of other committees and boards that a number of us are on to try to ensure that cohesion. We operate on the premise that everything will be different tomorrow than today. So, as much as possible based on the strategy, some things are done by my team and some by others. As long as it seems coherent and the result is positive, everything is good. There’re a lot of conversations, but I think that’s natural.
Q. It’s been a year since you came into your new role. What are the one or two learnings that you’d like to share?
Tony: First and foremost, don’t debate whether you need to go digital because you do. Then, the final strategy we just described – know why that is important. So, everybody knows how to align, whether in spirit or in details. But don’t overspend on the details. I was never one to spend two years on a strategy and then, have to redo it because the world is different. I’d say, have the right stakeholders and thought leaders with you driving the bus. So, I’m driving the bus with them together. And thought leaders and influencers don’t always have fancy titles, but they’re valuable, nevertheless. This is the team that would do the implementations and drive the change. This is both, from a professional competence perspective, but also, a mindset. Learn from mistakes and know that mistakes will be made. It is important to be ready when these happen and have that team flexibility to turn around and fix them. Digital is not easy. The Amazons and Googles do it very well but it requires a lot of focus and attention to detail. For a successful digital, the organizational processes and the business processes do have to change.
Disclaimer: This Q&A has been derived from the podcast transcript and has been edited for readability and clarity
About our guest
Tony Ambrozie is the Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer/Chief Information Officer for Baptist Health South Florida, the largest not-for-profit healthcare organization in South Florida. He is responsible for all technologies and customer experience as well as clinical digital and data transformation efforts.
Before joining Baptist Health, Mr. Ambrozie served as the Senior Vice President, Technology and Digital at The Walt Disney Company. In this role, he was responsible for a number of digital and core systems and technologies, engineering, data analytics and machine learning for Disney Parks, Consumer Products, Games and Publishing.
Prior to joining Disney in 2013, Mr. Ambrozie was Vice President for Digital Platform Technologies at American Express, where he was responsible for platform engineering, shared services development and application security, with previous roles focused on application architecture, development, engineering and performance.
He is a proven leader in the technology and digital space with a keen focus on using technology and data to enhance the consumer experience.
Prior to spending the past two decades focused on large business operations, he launched his technology career as the cofounder of a software development startup, specializing in building unique, small business applications.
Mr. Ambrozie holds a dual MBA and master’s degree in Information Management from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
About the host
Paddy is the co-author of Healthcare Digital Transformation – How Consumerism, Technology and Pandemic are Accelerating the Future (Taylor & Francis, Aug 2020), along with Edward W. Marx. Paddy is also the author of the best-selling book The Big Unlock – Harnessing Data and Growing Digital Health Businesses in a Value-based Care Era (Archway Publishing, 2017). He is the host of the highly subscribed The Big Unlock podcast on digital transformation in healthcare featuring C-level executives from the healthcare and technology sectors. He is widely published and has a by-lined column in CIO Magazine and other respected industry publications.
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