A CFO and CIO get candid about why and how they impact the company’s direction in artificial intelligence, and what real ROI means to them.
Maybe it’s because they’re atypical examples of their C-suite titles – one is a rocket scientist, and the other a strategic operations financial director... Or maybe it’s because both of them are passionately committed to the work they do... But one thing is clear: they each have fascinating perspectives to share on the increasing role of AI in our lives today. Wolters Kluwer recently sat down with both of them to discuss AI at Halifax Health, a leading Florida-based healthcare provider.
CFO Eric Peburn began at Halifax Health in 1996 as corporate controller. Later, during their COO’s two-year absence, Eric stepped in to run operations alongside his financial duties. Since then, as CFO, Eric also maintains involvement in operational activities.
CIO Tom Stafford has dual educations in aerospace and mechanical engineering. These led him into a medical equipment-manufacturing career. Then in 2007 Tom made a career shift into Healthcare IT, by taking a job at Halifax Health.
Wolters Kluwer: What gets you out of bed each day?
Eric: “Oh that’s easy. Our mission of providing the best care we possibly can. Sixteen years ago, Halifax Health caregivers literally saved the lives of both my wife and un-born daughter after my wife had a placental abruption. No matter how challenging my day is, that deep knowledge of what we do here can always get me through.”
Tom: “Every day I walk up the steps to the hospital, I know someone on my team is going to do something amazing to improve patient care today. And when I can see from my perspective that IT has met my team members’ core objectives, then that’s an excellent working day.”
Who has the most impact on the future of AI - CFO or CIO?
Eric: “I’m pushing hard to move down a pathway that includes AI, because I can see how much of the cost and waste of time and resources can be eliminated in the healthcare delivery process. As CFO I certainly have more impact when it comes to the actual spending on AI, but no initiative will even get moving without heavy reliance on judgments and analyses that are provided by our CIO and his team.”
Tom: “It will be a joint effort. Perhaps I’m unusual for a CIO because my focus is on keeping my customers: nurses and other caregivers, away from computers. I want to keep the AI invisible, then simply deliver prescriptive and predictive alerts so they can give timely, better care – we’ve successfully been able to do this with POC Advisor. As CIO I’ll be presenting AI possibilities, but then the stakeholders in the processes we’re trying to implement, will be right by my side.”
What kind of role is AI playing in your ‘back office operations’?
Tom: “Denial management is a huge ‘back office’ operation in healthcare. Software systems are appearing that are effectively ‘augmenting’ intelligence in that area. These can examine the denial reason, search through data they then correlate to the record, then present results to the customer service representative who initially denied the claim. It will be amazing when this is possible. Not tomorrow, but soon!”
Eric: “In the healthcare world we actually don’t separate ‘back office’ from ‘care.’ As CFO I always view things through the three lenses of cost, quality and access to services. Any automated improvements in the revenue cycle, the accounting side or decision support, will only be valuable if they reduce the cost, increase quality, or increase access to care.”
How close to ‘full potential’ is AI usage in your organization today?
Eric: “The vision we’d like to achieve is to have AI involved as a precursor to the care. Ideally intelligence will get built into processes whereby we make better and faster decisions in diagnosis, therefore have reduced patient time in hospitals, so the cost can actually go down for the same diagnosis. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re hoping to be five years down the track.”
Tom: “Within my first three hours working in Healthcare IT, I learned that it is harder to convince one physician to use computerized order entry, than it was for me to design and build a robot that operated within a minus 140 degree Fahrenheit freezer. And there’s a perfect reason: lives are at stake. There’s a huge amount of near-future potential for AI in healthcare, but it will only succeed when implemented in incremental steps.”
What could you do better, with the support of AI?
Tom: “My team members and I are focused on ‘intra’, rather than ‘inter’-operability. Case in point: I have different systems that contain golden nuggets of data. Now if I could connect that data together and put it in some sort of next generation physician support system – AI is like the culmination of that – then I’ll be able to get actionable information that I can transmit to caregivers faster, to enable better patient care.”
Eric: “To be the most effective I should be spending 50-75% of my time on strategic growth initiatives. But because of the ‘daily grind’ tasks I must get through, I presently only spend 25% of my time on them. For example: I think any CFO would love to have more real-time data pointing out critical outliers, so you wouldn’t have to look at absolutely everything, simply to come up with your own critical outliers.