Genomics, artificial intelligence, chatbots and a host of other technologies are accelerating the transformation of healthcare from a paper-based system to a digital one. In order to power this transformation, IT infrastructure (storage, computational power, security, etc) needs to move from an implementation afterthought to the forefront of strategic planning. Windstream Enterprise is one company that is working closely with healthcare providers to ensure their IT infrastructure is ready for the challenges ahead and helping to put the infrastructure conversation front-and-center.
Windstream is part of the wave of companies that have successful track-records in other industries that are now bringing their solutions to healthcare. This wave is being led by technology giants like Amazon, Apple and Google. The moves they make in healthcare get a lot of attention and rightfully so. Check out the excellent coverage by Christina Farr over at MSNBC for more information.
Although I am intrigued by what the big tech companies are doing, what I truly find fascinating (and frankly inspiring) is the work of the hundreds of companies not named Amazon, Apple and Google. Windstream is one of the companies I have been interested in ever since I saw them at HIMSS17 and wondered “What is an Internet access provider doing in healthcare?”
Windstream was formed back in 2006 when Alltel spun off it’s landline business and merged it with VALOR Communications Group. Back then they provided 3.4 million access lines (telephone and internet connections) in 16 states. Over the years they have continued to grow through acquisition, expanding into fiber transport networks and fixed wireless. Windstream Enterprises, a division of Windstream, has had tremendous success helping clients in the retail and banking industries build and manage their technology infrastructure.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Windstream’s President and CEO, Tony Thomas and one of their clients, the University of Kentucky Healthcare (UK), to talk about why healthcare needs to continue to invest in good IT infrastructure.
You can watch the full recording of our conversation here:
Thomas sees a lot of similarity between the digital transformation happening in healthcare and the ones that swept through the financial services and retail sectors.
“When you look at the success we’ve had in retail and banking, and then you look at where healthcare is heading, the commonality is the push to technology,” explained Thomas. “You can see that technology is changing the way that healthcare gets done. There is a focus on the patient experience and cost transformation.” This same focus on improving customer experiences and reducing costs is what helped spur the adoption of cloud and other advanced technologies at banks and retailers.
One driver of technology adoption in healthcare is the higher expectations patients have of healthcare provider. These higher expectations are fueled by the prevalence of (and convenience of) consumer technologies that have made our lives so much easier: online shopping, online banking, booking appointments through our smartphones, etc.
In 2016, Deloitte released a study that compared consumer use of technology for health vs other aspects of their lives. Not surprisingly their findings showed that healthcare lagged behind.
I see the delta between the use of technology as a consumer vs as a patient as a demand gap. The more healthcare lags behind, the more demand patients will put on healthcare organizations to adopt technologies that mirror what they experience as consumers.
To close that gap, organizations have accelerated the implementation of technologies like chatbots, omni-channel communications, artificial intelligence and data analytics. However, when you couple these new technologies with the use electronic health records and advanced lab systems, the result is explosive data growth.
“Over the last two years we have generated over 1.2 Petabytes of pathology data,” noted Cody Bumgardner PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the University of Kentucky Healthcare (a Windstream client). “Pathology is really the collection of different points of data: images, genomic & laboratory data. Digital Pathology is taking all that data, making it both operationally effective and ready for computational analysis – transforming it into something useful and actionable for clinicians. Pathology and pathological reports arguably provide the most actionable data in the patient record and it is relatively low-cost relative to other data sources.”
“As the number of health and wellness devices increases,” continued Bumgardner. “It means we will have to collect and analyze more and more data. You will need some solid infrastructure to allow that data to flow and you will need good computational power as close to the point of data generation as possible.”
Getting funds and resources to keep IT infrastructure up to date is not easy. Jan Bates, Director of Systems Operations at the University of Kentucky Healthcare summed it up succinctly: “It’s hard to get buy-in from executives because it’s not something they have a keen interest in discussing. In fact, many find it boring. You HAVE TO relate infrastructure back to the business. You have to answer the questions: What benefits will the organization realize? and What will the organization be able to do when the infrastructure is well maintained?”
The answer according to Windstream’s CEO Tony Thomas is nothing short of transforming the way healthcare is delivered: “We are really at an exciting time in healthcare. There are tons of new technologies emerging [like AI]. We’re going to need solid investments in the underlying infrastructure to support those technologies which will revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered.”
It gives me hope that companies like Windstream are bringing their extensive data and infrastructure management expertise from the banking sector to healthcare. Although healthcare is a unique industry, that doesn’t mean we are restricted to adopting solutions developed by healthcare insiders. We can (and should) leverage the best from other industries and adapt them to the unique aspects of healthcare.
“Given the opportunities we see in healthcare, we are increasing our investment here.” stated Thomas. “We think we can be a provider of choice for many healthcare organizations. In the end it’s all about the application of technology to solve problems in healthcare.”