Does Healthcare Need a New Job Title: Digitician?

June 4, 2018
Dale Sanders, president of technology at Health Catalyst, is advocating for the creation of a new health system role, which he is calling a “digitician.” What trends is he responding to and what would this person do?

Dale Sanders, president of technology at Health Catalyst, is advocating for the creation of a new health system role, which he is calling a “digitician.” What trends is he responding to and what would this person do?

Last week Health Catalyst held a fascinating webinar featuring Sanders and two of his former data warehousing colleagues:  Lee Pierce, chief data officer at Sirius and former chief data officer at Intermountain Healthcare, and Shakeeb Akhter, director of enterprise data warehouse, at Northwestern Medicine. (Sanders worked at Intermountain from 1997-2005 as the chief architect for the enterprise data warehouse  and regional director of medical informatics at LDS Hospital.  From 2005-2009, he was the CIO for Northwestern University’s physicians’ group and the chief architect of the Northwestern Medical EDW.)  They shared some lessons learned over 20 years of data warehousing and analytics.

But I was especially intrigued by Sanders’ comment about the need for this new role. He said if he were still a practicing chief data officer, he would create this role and skill set between the physician and the patient.

“It’s the digitician’s job to make sure that the digital profile of the patient is constantly updated and maintained in a different way than the way we’re approaching it today,” he said. Today, we only see a patient on an average of three times per year. That’s just not enough to understand that patient in a digital sense. That digitician’s job would be to round out that patient digital profile, even when they are not seeing and being treated in a traditional encounter.”

This role will become increasingly important, he added, because healthcare will be enabled by bio-integrated sensors. “Patients are going to hold more data about themselves in the future than the healthcare system, so you’re going to see a shift towards the patient in terms of the data power,” Sanders said. “It’s going to move away from the healthcare system. That data’s going to constantly be updated and uploaded to cloud-based AI algorithms. Those algorithms will diagnose the patient’s condition, calculate a composite health risk score and recommend options for treatment or maintaining health.”

The algorithm will also suggest options for the best fit in terms of care provider based upon quality of care, volume of care, he added, and it will provide the ability to socially interact with other patients like them, so they’re now extended members of the care team. “The patient will go into the care provider enabled with this conversation of AI algorithms.” It’s not that far away, he noted. “We had versions of this at Intermountain around the HELP system. What will be different is the precision of the conversation, obviously, but it’s going to happen.”

Sanders suggested that people interested in the topic should look at the work of John Rogers at Northwestern, who he said is at the leading edge of the bio-integrated sensors world. “John Rogers at Northwestern is giving us a glimpse into the near future of these bio-integrated sensors and patients really becoming the center of their own data universe.”

Sanders, Pierce, and Akhter had plenty of other interesting observations about what they did well and not so well in terms of people and processes, and they plan to do another webinar session to finish the conversation. Perhaps I’ll write another blog on other highlights of their discussion that I think I readers would find of interest.

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