A Roundtable Discussion on Employing Smarter Tech in Healthcare

This is part 2 in a 2-part series. Read part 1 here.

Tech solutions in healthcare today run the gamut. 

From the latest security frameworks to the multitude of cloud services, CTOs and IT specialists have countless paths they can take and tools they can leverage to make their organizations stronger.

As part of our healthcare workshop at VMware Explore 2022 in San Francisco, three technology leaders talked about why their teams decided to implement new digital strategies and some of the biggest surprises they faced along the way.

Sentara Healthcare Principal Enterprise Architect Greg Russell, Children’s Health System of Texas IT Infrastructure Director Matt Castle, and Houston Methodist Chief Technology Officer Jim Francis spoke with VMware Senior Director of Healthcare Solutions Enrique Estrada and Senior Director of Sales Engineering Raj Rana about their unique paths.

After walking through each guest’s scenario, the hosts opened the floor for questions from attendees with Rana leading a roundtable discussion on the biggest lessons learned.

He and audience members asked Castle, Russell, and Francis about the driving factors for their organizations and the biggest surprises they faced, among other insights. Here are some of the highlights from our roundtable discussion:

Managing Top-Level Expectations

No healthcare organization wants to deal with a “code black” scenario during a ransomware attack where everyone needs to start pulling out wires and disconnecting systems, Rana noted. That’s just one example of why healthcare leaders are increasingly sizing up their digital infrastructure.

When Children’s Health decided to upgrade its security protocols using VMware’s NSX platform, the organization’s leadership team gave a lot of thought to the potential disruptions a sudden data breach would cause. “If you don’t have buy-in with your leadership all the way up, you’re never going to reach your goal,” Castle maintained.

Sentara’s Russell said his organization’s decision to transition to Azure VMware Solution also started at the top. “As our CTO has said many times is: ‘We don’t want to be in the data center business,’” Russell noted. “That is one of the things that really started pushing us to Azure.” He said Sentara began moving its least critical applications first, to err on the side of caution.

Houston Methodist’s Francis said he’s been tasked with making many strategic IT decisions as the organization’s CTO. With more than 300 locations serving Houston’s large population, “I don’t have enough people who can go to a physician’s office or doctor’s home every time there’s a problem,” Francis said. “I’ve got to make it simple.” If physicians are calling up and talking about specific tech platforms, “I didn’t do my job right,” he added.

Facing Unexpected Hurdles and Surprises

Rana asked the three event guests about the biggest surprises they encountered as they were executing their strategies.

Castle said the biggest uncertainty with adopting VMware’s NSX for additional security and network optimization was the potential for “failure scenarios” due to his organization’s physical architecture. “With the platform we were putting into place, you’ve got to essentially push everything through a pair of software routers running on an M1 rack,” Castle noted. “We were a little concerned about how well that was going to hold up over time and we’re pleasantly surprised to see that it’s been very robust.”

Sentara’s Russell said the biggest surprise he and his team had to confront was “finding out how many of our application owners don’t know exactly what their machines talk to.” That remark drew nearly a standing ovation from the crowd. Russell said he is still working on a communication solution to avoid going over questions like which servers to connect to on a routine basis.

Francis echoed that sentiment, pointing out that each physician’s office uses different software. “There is a litany of applications out there that we don’t even know about that people have installed,” he said. “So, you’ve got to clean all that stuff up.” That’s one of the main reasons Francis and his team started with Houston Methodist’s clinical work stations first. “Everyone is looking for agility and mobility,” Francis said, noting that he had to make key decisions on who and what to prioritize.

Final Thoughts from VMware’s Guests

Francis said being a tech practitioner in healthcare today is just as vital as providing health services. “Everyone in the room delivers healthcare by making a contribution,” he said. “That’s really the true north of the conversation.”

Castle fully agreed with that message. “The better we do our jobs, the better our organizations can provide top-notch healthcare,” he said. “The technologies that clinicians rely on nowadays are critical. Many of them can’t do their jobs without it — and certainly not efficiently.”

Russell said his biggest advice to other healthcare tech practitioners is to take it slow and steady with implementing new tools. “Move an application at a time and test it out,” he said. With the tools available today, it is very easy to revert back if a technology change doesn’t work, he noted. “That takes a lot of the fear out of it,” Russell noted.

To hear more from VMware’s healthcare workshop, including additional questions from the audience, make sure to check out our full event.


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