David Kates: How staying grounded and curious are the keys to advancing healthcare technology

How can CTOs and CIOs help move technology adoption forward? How can end users and stakeholder needs stay front of mind throughout the design process? Where will health information exchange go from here?

Before joining Manifest MedEx as Chief Technology Officer, leading the technology, security, and scalability programs, David Kates served in senior leadership roles at some of the most well-known companies in the healthcare sector. His decades of experience in health information technology strategy, development, product management, and implementation activities give him great insight into how healthcare organizations can adopt and implement technology in a way that works for their team and their patients. We sat down with David to get his perspective on technology adoption and the role of HIE in today’s healthcare landscape.

MX: Let’s talk first about the leadership and change management role of CIO and CTO leads in large health organizations.

David: The CTOs and CIOs of a health organization need to align with the business and clinical decision-making needs of their organization’s stakeholders. A healthcare CTO has numerous challenges. One is to stay abreast of emerging technology trends and how to leverage those to advance the strategic imperatives of the organization. Number two, understanding healthcare industry–related trends and how technology can effectively be applied to create value for the organization.

As the CTO of Manifest MedEx, we are looking at how technology can be used to improve healthcare for our participant organizations across the state of California. We look at change management in terms of how our technologies can support the evolving organizational needs of hospitals, physicians, health plans, ancillary service providers, and community resources that leverage our technology. It’s bringing together those two streams, along with a broad set of business skills around the understanding of how to manage, prioritize, and leverage those technologies to meet the strategic needs of those organizations.

MX: What have you seen work in terms of leveraging technology in a way that moves it forward within an organization?

David: One way is understanding the needs of the different stakeholders that technology can address and balancing that with the available technologies. We also need to be cognizant of organizations’ appetite for risk and address the security and privacy considerations that are somewhat unique to healthcare. Ultimately, we work with our constituents to find a pragmatic balance.

For example, Manifest MedEx recognized that cloud computing is something we should leverage for our platform. While in healthcare we may be perceived as being somewhat of an early adopter, the technology is quite mature, and the benefits are substantial. The decision to host our platform in the cloud has paid significant dividends in terms of flexibility, scalability, and operational efficiency.

Ultimately, we are focused on taking advantage of technologies that can really benefit our participants by providing valuable services while meeting the performance, availability, security, and budgetary goals of our organizations.

MX: How do you screen technology to ensure that it’s really going to help your providers and patients?

David: It’s a combination of looking broadly across the industry, staying plugged in with technology partners and peer organizations, and seeing how technology is or could be adopted to create advantage for MX and our participants. We are conservative in the core technologies we leverage but seek to innovate where technologies can be applied to add unique value. We are very deliberate about how we evaluate, explore, and introduce solutions, including getting stakeholder buy-in and doing early prototyping and piloting of these technologies. In this way, we ensure we are delivering solutions that will benefit the intended end users or other applicable constituents. It’s important that we’ve gone through appropriate acceptance and validation testing with those organizations to ensure quality and adoption.

MX: How can you be an advocate for big technology projects without being too technical?

David: It really comes back to being focused on user needs and stakeholder needs and approaching it from the standpoint of how this will deliver value to support operational efficiency. Technology is the means to an end, not the end itself. Just saying, “Let’s do something with big data or machine learning or artificial intelligence” because it’s super cool is going to fall flat on its face. But to the extent that you’re trying to help organizations predict which subset of that population is going to end up in the emergency room and take into account data that we have and then apply that, the technology is the means to the end in order to deliver value to solve a business problem.

MX: Tell us what brought you to MX.

David: My role at MX allows me to combine the skills and experiences I’ve had over my career in health information technology to make a significant impact on improving the health system in support of the evolving delivery and payment models. Manifest MedEx is in the unique and interesting position of being able to bring the much talked-about “interoperability” to life in a way that creates true value. Creating value from digitizing health information and sharing that information has been a theme throughout my career and a significant undertaking for the industry. I joined MX to implement the vision of a health data utility and to join the fantastic team that can bring that vision to reality.

While there are a variety of different approaches to supporting information exchange, MX has accomplished getting the participation of all the key stakeholders across the geography and aligns both clinical and financial incentives that are taking shape within the industry. It is a privilege to be part of an organization that is truly advancing interoperability across the healthcare industry.

MX: What do you see for the future of MX and also for HIE as a whole?

David: I see the future moving toward MX and serving as an information utility, providing access to relevant longitudinal patient records and value-added information for authorized use across the state. To put a fine point on it, in addition to people logging in to our portal, we will ultimately be successful when we disappear into the background and power the applications used by healthcare organizations: the electronic medical records, the management workflow applications, the analytics applications, and predictive modeling tools. Organizations will leverage their tools, and Manifest MedEx will become a secure information utility to support the efficient information exchange to power those applications.

MX: What advice do you have for participants from your extensive experience in this industry?

David: The simplest one is to be curious and think about creative ways that technology can help meet the needs of the healthcare industry — or whatever industry you serve. There are so many powerful, emerging tools, and sometimes it seems overwhelming. But staying focused is key. Stay grounded in what problems you are trying to solve, leveraging the technology and resources at your disposal, continuing to deliver value along each step in your journey.