The Brightest Minds Speak Up

Robert Napoli

CIO for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest & Hawaiian Islands

Robert Napoli’s immersion into both healthcare and information technology began early. As a teen, he learned programming languages on his own and then supported himself in college as a caseworker at a nursing home. After becoming a “law school dropout,” he followed his passion for healthcare and became director of a long-term care facility in Virginia. In the early 1990s he created a tech startup that developed one of healthcare’s first electronic dictation transcription services. By 2002 Napoli jumped into healthcare IT fulltime for hospitals in New York and Connecticut. In 2013 he began his current role as CIO for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. Napoli recently was invited to be a judge for the Medical Capital Innovation Competition, selecting winners from teams around the world using disruptive technologies to improve healthcare.

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

Robert: The answer to that is relative. It’s based on an organization’s size, the patient population, and unfortunately, on budget. In my experience, many organizations are still struggling to take advantage of older solutions, like business intelligence, analytics, mobility, the cloud and social media. They’re not the most sexy or innovative technologies when compared to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain or augmented reality. But the older solutions are still important and cutting-edge.

For example, within the past three years, my organization developed mobile health solutions – not exactly super innovative. But for us, in a service area that includes Alaska and Hawaii, with a lot of remote locations, the patient access is incredibly impactful. I have a lot of interest in patient-generated data, like finding ways to use non-invasive census and mobile devices to capture patient data into an electronic health record so it’s actionable by both the patient and provider. We’re starting to see advances in this area. Our mobile app allows patients to have a video consult with a provider who can prescribe birth control or other medications based on their needs. This is important for accessing patients in remote areas.

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

Robert: For me, the greatest concern is safeguarding patients’ data. We continue to see breaches. Almost all the cybersecurity among Planned Parenthood affiliates I work with does have an AI component – and the best cyber security tools are taking advantage of these more innovative technologies. But look at the healthcare environment we’re operating in -- with its massive size and disparate systems that don’t integrate, with data silos and hundreds of data entry points, let alone mobile apps and requirements for patients’ remote access to data. All that only increases the likelihood that data will be breached as we make technology more accessible to consumers and harder to safeguard. I don’t have any easy answer for that.

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

Robert: Prior to joining the committee, I would stay abreast of what other people are doing by subscribing to various healthcare IT newsletters and articles. But it’s a passive approach. I’ve found the best way to get information is by networking. And the HIMSS Innovation Committee really heightens that, with a core group of people who are either leading innovations at their organizations or they’re passionate about it. When we get together monthly and bring in new vendors or presentations on what’s happening in the industry, it provides a perspective that is difficult to figure out on your own.

For example, there’s a lot going on with patient engagement solutions, beyond appointment scheduling or pre-registration systems. There’s AI and augmented reality, blockchain, and others. The challenge is separating the hype from the reality. There’s a lot of noise out there, and in technology – we love hype! This committee does a great job of not only introducing what our peers are doing but sorting through the practical applications of innovative technologies.

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

Robert: The potential for markedly improving and impacting lives is considerable. We’ve never seen so many new technologies as we have in the past 20 years. If we could nail the analytics component, the genetic component as far as disease prediction and predisposition, we could alter the course of a person’s medical future. Look at 3D printing – we’re creating artificial limbs from a device! There’s so much potential right now to improve quality of care and outcomes. I find it hard not get excited about that.