How Can Health Care Innovate With Cybersecurity in Mind?

In this exclusive interview with Patrick Hale, the award-winning CIO from VITAS Healthcare in Miami, we cover health-care innovation, technology, virtual reality solutions, cybersecurity and so much more.

by / May 12, 2019
Credit: Vitas Healthcare

What does great customer service look like in the health-care industry? How is technology reshaping patient outcomes for the better? Where is secure innovation in health care going next? 

There are many answers to these question, but perhaps the best response is to point to leaders and organizations that are recognized by their peers as top models to follow — right now.

I know of no one better to address these questions than Patrick (Pat) Hale, who is the executive vice president and CIO at VITAS Healthcare in Miami.

VITAS Healthcare is the nation's leading provider of end-of-life services. It was established in South Florida in 1978 and today remains a leader and innovator of hospice services by putting patients and families first using compassionate care and delivering value through clinical excellence.

To understand their scope, VITAS Healthcare provides hospice care on an average daily basis to more than 18,000 patients. The care is provided by its more than 12,000 employees in 14 states and the District of Columbia. You can learn more about VITAS Healthcare at www.VITAS.com.

According to the VITAS Healthcare website: “Patrick oversees all aspects of large-scale IT operations. His 20-plus years of experience span multiple business verticals, including healthcare, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, financial services, retail and government.

Patrick joined VITAS in 2013 as a key member of a senior management team that has successfully steered the organization through rapid, continued growth. He oversees all aspects of VITAS technology, cybersecurity and is also responsible for the Care Connection Center, a nationwide VITAS call center that delivers admissions services and after-hours clinical care.

Known as a pioneer in mobile solutions, Patrick and his teams shaped a partnership with Apple, AT&T and VMware that delivered mobile technology solutions into the hands of more than 8,000 VITAS clinicians. The iMobility project allows VITAS to provide secure, mobile-supported hospice care, communications, orders and prescriptions from a patient’s bedside. This project earned VITAS the worldwide honor of 2018 Process Excellence Network Award (PEX) for a technology-enabled process improvement project. In 2017 Patrick also was honored as the CIO of the Year by the South Florida Business Journal. …”

Pat Hale walks the walk and leads by example. But I didn’t need to look at Pat’s LinkedIn profile to learn about his successful career. I saw Pat’s success first-hand more than a decade ago, when he was the chief technology officer (CTO) in Michigan during the time I was the Michigan chief information security officer (CISO). We worked on numerous technology and cyberprojects together, such as major data center consolidation, while addressing the people, processes and technology components during tough budget times.

Patrick has a professional management style which is not only winning and assertive, but is also kind, direct and trust-building. Pat delivered positive business results using technology in government, and later delivered great results at Sparrow Health System in Michigan.  

I am grateful for Pat’s support and encouragement to me during a time when he was about to leave state government in January 2009. When I was pegged as the acting CTO to take his place (later that spring being named the permanent CTO in Michigan), Pat spent several weeks going the extra mile to help me adjust and “learn the ropes” in managing a larger organization with over 1,000 state government and contractor staff. His attention to details and supportive approach were clearly evident.

More than 10 years later, I am not surprised that Pat’s team continues to lead the nation in building innovative solutions that make a difference for the global health-care industry.      

Exclusive Interview Between Patrick Hale and Dan Lohrmann

Dan Lohrmann (DL): Tell us what you like most about your role as CIO at VITAS Healthcare. What makes it exciting to come into work on Monday mornings?

Patrick Hale (PH): The people. VITAS is a special place to innovate, we expect a lot out of our technologists and they never disappoint. The VITAS brand of IT demands excellent technical skills, relentless collaboration and the ability to check your ego at the door. Our people embrace the future and have such passion to serve our patients, families and clinicians. It’s simply an honor to work with them every day.

DL: When you first moved to South Florida, you wanted to transform the way health care was delivered using technology, and you have won many awards for your innovation and approaches. Tell us about some of the most exciting examples you have seen over the past few years.

PH: Probably our most lauded advancement has been the Patient Experience Improvement initiative. In 2014 VITAS Healthcare undertook one of the nation’s most aggressive portfolios of projects designed to speed care transition, improve outcomes and fundamentally innovate the patient experience. Every patient experience begins with a care transition. This initiative included:

Interoperability: The VITAS patient experience begins long before admission to our care. Availability of information and coordination of a patient’s transition is the most crucial and most impactful stage of care. Our interoperability solution transfers medical chart data in real time to our clinical team in the field. Information is also shared with the referring provider, giving them up-to-the-minute data on their patient’s progression.

Mobility: Care at VITAS is given in many settings, the home, hospital, nursing homes and LTACs [Long-Term Acute Care facilities]. Clinical workers are enabled with secure, fully native mobile solutions that make charting easier, communications immediate and coordination of care seamless. Every VITAS physician, nurse, chaplain and social worker is outfitted with a mobile device that serves as their clinical workstation. Once a patient’s record is transferred to VITAS from any EMR [electronic medical record], it is instantly made available at the bedside. Mobility gives our clinicians real-time data and connectivity in any care setting, wherever the bedside may be.

Logistics: Employing the latest techniques in business analytics, VITAS uses data as a strategic tool for decision-making and the deployment of care. This capability is further enhanced with intuitive nationwide workflow systems that monitor progress and ensure that resources throughout the country are managed to optimal effect.

DL: Moving forward, how do you see virtual reality fitting into health-care service delivery?

PH: Virtual reality is probably one of the most exciting emerging technologies in health care. When we think about people facing life-limiting illness two things are almost always at the top of their care goals:

Being lucid and able to interact with their loved ones

Being pain free

Virtual reality has proven to be very powerful as a tool for distraction therapy. The 4K experiences available offer an experience that lowers a patient’s pain, reduces the need for opioid medication and can be used to create shared experiences with loved ones. VR allows a patient who is physically unable to leave the house to attend a wedding, to see a part of the world they always longed to visit or travel home one last time without ever leaving their bed. In 2019 we are taking those virtual experiences mobile over the 5G network (thanks to our partnership with AT&T) to bring VR therapy right to the patient’s bedside.

DL: You have won some amazing awards as CIO across multiple industries. How do you motivate your teams?

PH: So much of what we need to do as leaders is to communicate how important every contribution is. As human beings we all have the need to know our work matters. Whether you are answering the phone in our help desk, responsible for database administration or developing a new mobile application, your efforts make a huge difference. At VITAS, we recognize that big things happen in the small moments. Huge, impactful projects are made up of thousands of mundane moments where our employees have a choice to settle for “good enough” or challenge themselves to excellence. We constantly ask ourselves “If that was my sister or my father being cared for, what tools would I want their nurse to have at her fingertips?” We encourage our teams to have the audacity to imagine a better tomorrow and the tenacity to do everything we can to make that happen. 

DL: How do you see cybersecurity fitting into your technology plans and new innovative strategies at VITAS Healthcare?

PH: It’s simply paramount. Our systems have to be trusted, they have to be secure. Security is so challenging and has been doubly so given our commitment to mobile. It is one thing to keep your systems safe, it’s quite another to think about that access remaining secure over a host of vectors (internal network, guest Wifi or over a cellular connection). We ended up using a 3 factor authentication method for all data access (reading and writing) that is transaction based, agile, bandwidth-light and effective. If we have a technology “secret sauce” this is definitely it. It is one of the things we are most proud of. 

DL: When you look wider at the healthcare industry as a whole, what are the biggest challenges your see over the next decade?

PH: I see challenges as opportunities. If it was easy, not very many of us would have jobs right? Health care in the U.S. continues to see massive change almost hourly. Whether facing the challenge of new regulations, modified reimbursement or new threats from competition; health care has been (and continues to be) one wild ride. At VITAS, we like to call it “the whitewater” and I think that analogy is very apt. Everyone is moving so fast and making such incredible progress it almost defies description, but it only takes one big rock in the river to sink your raft. And make no mistake, there are organizations closing, merging and/or being rendered obsolete each and every day. Personally, I love the whitewater. Health-care businesses have never had more opportunity, and it is at these rare moments in history that true change is possible.

DL: As far as cybersecurity in hospitals nationwide, where are the biggest security weaknesses? For example, is ransomware the greatest threat currently?

PH: We have certainly seen health care becoming more and more of a target. Email remains our most attacked vector, but it is by no means the only one. I honestly think the biggest IT failure or risk is not asking for or justifying a robust security budget. I get to interact with hospital CEOs and CFOs all across the country who all list cybersecurity as one of their top three highest concerns. More often than not, their complaint is that they are just not seeing a thoughtful request for funding or detailed enough security planning/road maps. That problem lies 100 percent with the CIO, too often security initiatives are seen as expensive insurance policies and put off for years. In reality, if we (the CIO) wait too long to invest in increasing the effectiveness of our security, we set our organizations up for extremely big “hits” down the road when one year’s budget has to make up for five years of delayed investment.

DL: What is the security industry missing? What can we do better?

PH: We need more of you. This field of study is one I really push and mentor for with the youth I work with. Our society will become increasingly automated and there will always be those trying to take advantage of that. What field of study could you imagine that would have better job security? I think we all need to do a better job letting young people know how vital and exciting the world of cybersecurity is. 

Dan Lohrmann: Thank you, Pat, for your thoughtful answers.

Closing Comments

I never cease to be amazed by the industry-leading work that former government leaders perform each and every day.

Far from the narrative that the only people who work in government are those who “can’t cut it in the private sector,” I have seen numerous government technology and cybersecurity leaders go on to be global leaders in banking, transportation, insurance, health care and many other fields. Patrick Hale is an outstanding example of a former state government technology executive who has gone on to be an industry leader in technology innovation — in this case in the health-care field.    

I encourage all critical infrastructure sectors to take a close look at what VITAS Healthcare has accomplished in the way of innovative technology projects that improve customer care, while maintaining the essential focus on cybersecurity as a priority at the same time.