Peter Bak (pictured), CIO at the new Humber River Hospital, in Toronto, was named Canadian Public Sector CIO of the Year at the 2016 Ingenious Awards earlier this month. The awards are given each year by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) to recognize excellence in the use of information technology.
Bak was a key member of the team that developed the Humber River Hospital, said to be the first “digital hospital” in North America. It opened its doors in October 2015.
Bak first started on the project as a consultant. He has worked in healthcare software development, product commercialization, consulting, and executive leadership for 25 years. The project was greenlighted in 2010, and would include a new facility, as well as the digital systems for clinical care, administration and building management.
The leading-edge systems include ‘robots’ that mix drugs and transport goods, machines that process blood samples, and electronic medical charts. Every bed is equipped with a touchscreen so patients can access their charts, make calls, and adjust the temperature in their rooms.
IT World Canada reports that the project has achieved a number of results, including increased efficiencies. Nurses, for example, spend less time on administrative tasks and “sneaker time” or running around. Instead they spend more time at the bedside with patients. “So they are still walking but they aren’t walking to do unproductive things,” Bak says.
Bak says there’s also been an increase in communication and collaboration in the hospital, which can be a challenge in many healthcare settings. Nurses and doctors change shifts, and communication breaks down when decisions need to be made collaboratively and on time.
Bak says the team now uses pagers and phones to keep connected, and tools such as instant messaging with staff and video chats between patients and doctors were added.
“That sets you up to connect and get the right parties at the table immediately,” Bak says. “That happens in the consumer world. Well, apply it to the healthcare world and now you’ve got far, far more collaboration going on in an episode of care.”
Bak says the health practitioners adapted to the new systems quite quickly. “What we found was certain key parts of the technology became almost instantly irreplaceable,” he says. “So, when we turned them off and were tuning things, frontline staff they would get really upset. That’s fantastic because that’s telling you they are becoming dependent on that piece of technology, and it’s therefore adding value. That was the most pleasant surprise and I hadn’t really expected that.”
Two years into the project, Bak was hired as CIO at Humber River. He says championing the project gave him insight on what characteristics CIOs of healthcare institutions need to have. Strong technical skills are the first.
“I’ve seen so often in hospitals that CIOs are combined with the CFO role,” he says. “And so really, they are not technical people at all. They rely on directors and managers to run the technology. You need to have people who are really caught up in understanding of what’s going on in the world of IT and how to apply it.”
He says healthcare CIOs also need to build confidence in their leadership. “It’s true of any leader,” he says. “In IT, the CIO needs to build that level of respective confidence because you’re going to introduce so much change, that if you have to fight that change all the time, it’s going to be hard.”
Bak advises CIOs at other healthcare institutions looking to take on a similar digital project to align their leadership, including the executive and the board of directors, with the larger vision. “If you’re going to do a major IT initiative like we’ve done here, it has to start with complete buy-in from that level. Without that buy-in, don’t even start.”
But he also advises teams have a clear picture of what the vision is, as well as a strong technical team. “You need people that understand the technology, the people who will implement it, and run it,” he says.