The Brightest Minds Speak Up

Paul Murphy was born and educated in Ireland but moved to the U.S. in 1990 to explore his career path. Hired as operations manager for the New York Blood Center, he soon discovered a passion for healthcare as a mission. Combining this with his fascination for IT, Murphy pursued an MBA with a focus on healthcare administration. For the past 20 years, he’s been a principal adviser with ECG Management Consultants, often working with chief information officers and chief financial officers to organize a system’s IT portfolio and team, and frequently during a major change initiative.

HIMSS: What do you see as the most important new innovations in digital health?

Paul: We have so many new devices and technologies, but it’s all very scattered, not connecting to each other or to electronic health records. That’s where the opportunity lies. What health systems and providers really need is an “innovation culture.” It’s difficult to do that in the healthcare industry because we’re all taught to be cautious with patient data and confidentiality and getting the patient better – so we don’t always “try things out” like other industries might. But already we’re seeing the benefits of being more flexible and creating cultures where employees can be innovative.

At HIMSS18 we had a full-day symposium called Innovation as a Strategic Imperative with six speakers including Aneesh Chopra, the first chief technology officer of the United States. We covered a tremendous amount of ground and were inspired to believe it is possible if we think differently and provide a structure to encourage innovation. We agreed that we can’t address all the huge challenges in healthcare without thinking in a more creative way.

Some of the big innovations that will propel us forward are the new FHIR® standards to coordinate all the different applications. The other is blockchain technology as a standard to secure communications across the web, which has always been one of the biggest anxiety points in healthcare.

HIMSS: What are the most pressing needs on the healthcare horizon?

Paul: The aging population presents a lot of issues, with more people needing care for longer. In 2015, we had 47.8 million elderly people in the U.S. on Medicare. By 2050, we expect that to nearly double to 88 million. At the same time, we have 51 percent of physicians reporting burnout, contributing to a shortage of providers. We should be able to find a way to use technology to ease the burden on providers – but in many cases, they complain that these systems only give them more to do.

We also have populations like cancer survivors in need of attention. There is tremendous focus on cancer patients while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy -- but after the tumor is removed and treatment is a success, patients can feel left on their own unless they find a support group. And if the cancer returns, these patients need follow-up over a period of years. There’s also a need for attention to populations with chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and pulmonary disease – where we see long-term expenses for these growing demographics.

That’s why design thinking is so important – that is, doing the research first to really understand the group you’re trying to help. We need to listen to people and design solutions that address what they need and not what we think they need. Design thinking is a very methodical approach -- piloting an idea and then measuring, checking and adjusting. I find this fascinating. In healthcare we need this thoughtful approach that really puts the patient at the center.

HIMSS: What’s the value of being on the HIMSS Innovation Committee?

Paul: The Innovation Committee breaks me out of my comfort zone! I’ve become an expert in the electronic health record marketplace and I really understand those products and vendors -- but to grow, I need to understand what’s coming next. Before I joined the committee, I was aware of things like FHIR and blockchain, but I didn’t really understand how they’d come together. The thought leaders on the HIMSS committee help me get a sense for patterns – and the right way to engage with startups.

HIMSS: Why do you have a passion for advancing health innovation?

Paul: So many of us have a passion for improving healthcare systems because it’s something we’re all going to need – and our families, too. My father is 90 and in a permanent care facility. My mother died of cancer 15 years ago. We all have these stories and live with the impact. On days when I’m tired or frustrated, the sense that it’s important motivates me. I’m excited by the progress I see coming.  It re-energizes me because I do think we’ll see rapid advancement in the availability of care on a broader basis – beyond the physician’s office and out to where people are every day. The next big step is to liberate information and make it accessible and to take some of the burden off providers.

One of my clients this year was a small hospital in Ohio called Marietta Memorial Health Systems. They wanted to create a more innovative structure for their providers to try out new ideas and technologies.  I was inspired by that – because at bigger, well-funded healthcare organizations you have the resources and the structure to do that. But for small organizations, it’s pretty daunting. I presented to our HIMSS committee on How to Enable Innovation in Small Organizations about using a step-by-step plan, including collaboration.

This was the focus at HIMSS18 Innovation Live – where we talked about innovation working best in an open environment, where you’re not afraid of people taking your ideas. is a great example, with a core software that’s open to people coming up with apps or uses for a particular group. That’s a great way to think about healthcare. We need to be flexible and open to new sources of information, but with the rigor to make sure it’s accurate. That will set apart those who succeed in this next phase of growth.

HIMSS: Anything else on your mind?

Paul: One of the things I really want to accomplish in my two years on the HIMSS Innovation Committee is to convince healthcare organizations and providers that innovation isn’t something other people do. By starting with a different frame of mind about innovation and equipping yourself with an understanding of design thinking and collaboration in seeking resources – innovation is something everyone can take part in. It’s not just about personal gain. It’s for the good of us all.