Health Tech

UnityPoint CEO warns other health systems not to make the same tech adoption mistake that his did

UnityPoint Health CEO Clay Holderman said his health system made a mistake when it used to leave decision making concerning new technology adoption up to the director of its venture fund instead of involving its frontline clinicians. UnityPoint’s clinicians didn’t take too well to this, so the health system re-structured its technology adoption process to prioritize the voices of its clinical staff.

Clay Holderman, president and CEO of Midwest-based health system UnityPoint Health, isn’t afraid to admit when his health system could have done things better.

On Thursday, he revealed a key mistake UnityPoint made a few years ago at Reuters’ Total Health conference in Chicago. The error was that the health system used to leave decision making concerning new technology adoption up to the director of UnityPoint Ventures instead of involving its frontline clinicians in that process.

While the director of a health system’s venture fund certainly has a keen understanding of healthcare technology, the person in this role is not going to end up using this technology day-to-day while delivering care. UnityPoint’s clinicians didn’t take too well to this fact, according to Holderman.

“The resistance that we got from clinicians was intense,” he said. “We actually had to call a timeout and reverse the model. We put together a physician advisory group for the adoption of technology, a nurse informatics group, and other stakeholder groups for pharmacy and supply chain. We brought the loudest opposition voices to the table along with the earliest adopters to the table.”

Once UnityPoint incorporated the voice and opinion of its clinicians into its technology adoption decision making process, the health system felt less resistance when introducing new tools, Holderman declared.

Moderator Rebecca Pifer of Healthcare Dive summed up his anecdote succinctly: “Doctors love technology, except when it’s forced upon them.”

Holderman argued that every health system would benefit from putting more emphasis on earnestly listening to their clinicians. Since clinicians spend their time immersed in the inner workings of day-to-day care delivery, they have the most valuable opinions on which pain points need to be targeted and how to make improvements.

“One of my providers gave me some words that really mean a lot to me. He said ‘A culture of innovation is really having the courage to notice what’s wrong, and the permission to address it,’” Holderman said.

Fellow panelist Susan Turney, president and CEO of Marshfield Clinic Health System, agreed. She said that ever since the pandemic hit, her health system has made listening to its clinicians more of a priority.

“I think the way we have to listen has changed dramatically,” she said. “We’ve had to give [clinicians] the permission to make changes, and that’s exciting because I think it’s starting to re-energize and reinvigorate our workforce, which is something we drastically need.”

Photo: wenmei Zhou, Getty Images