Cleveland Clinic’s Ed Marx Talks Health IT Disruption, Innovation and a “Patient-First Approach”

Jan. 17, 2018
Edward Marx, CIO of the Cleveland Clinic, discusses his priorities leading IT initiatives at the health system, the acceleration of health IT innovation and what he is excited to see develop in the healthcare technology space in 2018.

Along with being a notable experienced health IT leader, Edward Marx, CIO of the Cleveland Clinic, also is a seasoned mountain climber, and his expertise in both areas makes him more than qualified to share his insights on reaching the highest heights of health IT disruption and innovation.

Marx, who took over the CIO role at Cleveland Clinic Sept. 1 after the health system announced his hiring in July, is slated to be a keynote speaker at Healthcare Informatics’ Cleveland Health IT Summit at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown on March 27 to 28. In his keynote presentation, Marx will apply his mountain climbing experiences to driving innovation in healthcare, and what it takes for CIOs to summit the innovation mountain.

Prior to stepping into the CIO role at Cleveland Clinic, Marx held executive positions at the Advisory Board Company and he spent eight years as CIO at Texas Health Resources, following five years in that role at University Hospitals in Cleveland. What’s more, Marx is active with professional organizations, advisory boards and higher education throughout the health IT industry. He is a Fellow of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). He has won numerous awards, including HIMSS/CHIME 2013 CIO of the Year.

Recently, Healthcare Informatics’ Associate Editor Heather Landi spoke with Marx about his priorities leading IT initiatives at Cleveland Clinic, the acceleration of health IT innovation and what he is excited to see develop in the healthcare technology space in 2018. Below are excerpts from that interview.

You started in your new role as CIO at Cleveland Clinic about four months ago. What are your priorities right now?

The number one priority is the exact same priority as the Cleveland Clinic itself, and that is, to ensure that we continue to promote and cultivate a patient-first environment; everything we do is really centered around that focus of putting patients first. The strategies that our organization has are the exact same ones that IT has. One area of focus for 2018 is digitalization, and that’s really about how do we take our practices today and leverage technology to automate them, and that could manifest itself in many different ways depending on the area. It could be exploiting artificial intelligence, machine learning and the digital hospital. We do all of those things already, but it’s about taking them to the next level. The focus is about how do we become more efficient and effective, and maximize the tools that are available to us today to continue to deliver the highest quality patient care possible. At our organization, IT is not a separate strategy than the organization, and it’s important that IT is an enabler of the organization’s objectives and not just something we do because it’s a cool thing to do or it’s the next shiny, bright object that’s out there. We never lead with it, because we always collaborate; collaborating with technology and with what we’re trying to do on the clinical side in order to do the very best by our patients.

There are some foundational things that we work on just like any other strong IT organization. One is leveraging best practices for IT. While we have a good IT organization, we want to continue to improve and grow, and one way we do this is by leveraging best practices, just as the same as clinical side, where we try to increase the quality of care, we look at best practices around the world and then we adopt them within our culture. We’re doing the same with IT. We’re working hard on that. Another key thing for us in terms of focusing on the fundamentals is transforming ourselves into an agile organization. Many of the leading companies today, technology companies specifically, are agile companies and they have adopted agile practices. That’s something that we’re doing, and not just in project management and not just in software management, as many companies do, but we’re adopting an agile format, much like successful tech companies, in everything we do.

A third thing we’re doing is that we’re really enhancing our governance and project management capabilities, so we want to continue to grow and make sure that we’re very effective in our utilization of scarce resources. We all have a limited amount of resources, and so we want to become very adept and very good at how we align those with the organization’s priorities and we do that through strong IT governance and project management. Once we do have those resources secured, and we launch particular initiatives to enable our business, we want to make sure that it’s in done in the very best possible way. In all those areas, we’re working to become the best of class to enable our organization’s mission and vision.

What are the biggest challenges that healthcare CIOs are facing?

I think some of the bigger challenges are security, of course, such as how do you ensure that you have all the appropriate safeguards in place, and how do you continue to mature in that area at the same pace as those who seek to do damage? So, security is a big focus for us.

Going back to what we were talking about before as far as strategy, how do we leverage technology to enable the business in a way that’s effective and efficient? All of us have scarce resources, so it’s about how do we operate as agile as possible given the environment that we’re in, with the changes in healthcare, the landscape today? We need to do a lot of things differently. It goes back to the saying, ‘What got us here, won’t get us there.’ We need to figure out new ways to operate. That’s always a challenge, so that’s why we’re focused on some of those foundations that I mentioned earlier to meet that particular challenge. I think between the new ways of operating and security, those are the two biggest challenges that we’re facing.

What are you most looking forward to in 2018, in terms of innovation and progress in the health IT world?

I think we’re going to see rapid adoption and acceleration of technology-enabled enhancements. We’ve talked about a lot of these for several years, but I think we finally have the right mix of different things happening that are going to enable this sort of rapid acceleration. Those things are the advancement of technology, number one, but now also the empowerment of everyone, sometimes I call it consumerism, but everyone understands the capability now of technology. And, third, in an organization like the Cleveland Clinic, with the amount of innovation that already takes place and the culture of innovation, when you mix the maturity of technology, the ubiquity of technology, as everybody understands it and are digital natives now, and the innovative culture that we have, we are going to see this rapid cycle of deployment, acceleration and transformation of what we’re doing with technology.

An example of an initiative that we have already started on with AI is with what we’re doing with Microsoft using Microsoft HoloLens. We continue to exploit that technology and the capabilities there. [editor’s note: Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University have partnered with Microsoft to use HoloLens, a fully self-contained holographic computer, to leverage virtual reality to train medical students on anatomy. Students put on a HoloLens headset and are guided through a lesson on a virtual human subject, a human body in 3D. A video of the project can be found here.] And then, finally, all of that, AI in particular, leads us to precision medicine, and we’re already seeing early results.

I think we’re going to see that rapid acceleration and deployment of new technologies in 2018; we’ve finally hit the tipping point. That’s what I’m really excited about, because, at the end of the day, it’s about that patient-first objective and enabling us to take better care of our patients and increase the quality of care.

On the subject of patient engagement, what role does technology play in the Cleveland Clinic’s ongoing patient engagement strategies?

We have an office of patient experience and I think we were the first in the country to have a patient experience officer, and that officer is a peer of mine; that’s how important that role is. We do a lot of things to engage with patients and ensure the patient has a great experience and much of that is technology-enabled. We have a new system that we are rolling out to engage patients at the bedside, and this includes the ability to leverage a large screen so that patients can control their entertainment and also receive clinical care information and education materials and it gives them the ability to interact with caregivers through their medical record. This system gives patients the ability to eventually control environmentals in their room, to order meals, to basically have this strong interactive relationship.

We also focus on engaging our patients whenever they may be around the world. We have spent a lot of time and effort to make sure that through our smartphone applications, that there’s always a connection with the Cleveland Clinic for patients and for prospective patients; that they are engaged with their medical record, that they can interact with their providers, that they can see providers through their app, schedule appointments through their app, have quick access to providers, do some of their visits virtually, so there’s a whole host of things that we’ve done on the mobile side that really engages the patients.