Health IT Thought Leader Highlight: Dr. Cliff Bleustein, Chief Medical Officer, Dell

Cliff Bleustein,MD,MBA
Cliff Bleustein, MD

Dr. Cliff Bleustein, chief medical officer and head of Dell’s global healthcare consulting services, leads an integrated team of clinical, business, and technical professionals who provide expertise to health systems, hospitals, physician practices, health plans and life sciences organizations. Here he discusses Dell’s healthcare vision; improving patient engagement and how he defines the term; data security; and trends that he thinks will be worth tracking in the near term — here’s a hint: smartphones, yes; wearables, no.

In your new role as chief medical officer and global head of healthcare consulting at Dell Services, what are your responsibilities?

As chief medical officer, I play a key role in Dell Services’ healthcare division supporting our aggressive strategic initiative to revolutionize the way healthcare is managed. I spend a lot time listening to customers and helping them to better manage patient-specific data that spans the entire continuum of care. Ultimately, better information and technology will drive improvements in quality, patient safety, efficiency and outcomes. I help shape our strategy and ensure that it meets the needs of our customers, both now and in the future.

Tell me about your background in healthcare and how you came to be passionate about the space.

Ever since I was a child, I knew that I wanted to be a physician. Originally I was fascinated with the ability of body builders to be able to grow muscle to such huge proportions and lift weights several times greater than their mass. As my career developed, I focused on how treatments and diagnostics could move from the lab to the bedside. During training and private practice, I became more involved in understanding how systems work and function and what drives them. I was fortunate enough in my career to work internationally, as well. This gives a much broader view about how healthcare can be improved on a larger scale. I am driven by a desire to continue to disrupt the market with new technologies and solutions that can have a meaningful impact on improving health at scale.

What is Dell’s background in healthcare IT and why does the company put an emphasis on this sector (other than for obvious financial reasons)?

People are often surprised to learn that Dell has more than 20 years of experience in serving healthcare customers. That, combined with our deep bench of clinical and technical experts, is why Gartner has ranked Dell number one among healthcare IT service providers for four years running. But it goes beyond that; it’s also personal. Michael Dell is keenly interested in exploring how technology can improve healthcare systems around the globe. And we have thousands of employees who get up every day and focus solely on the needs of our healthcare customers. With an aging population and the impact of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, we must find ways to reduce cost, improve productivity and improve health outcomes. Technology has a huge role to play. We also know we can’t do it alone, and for that reason we work with and partner with some of the leading companies in the industry.

What solutions does Dell offer and how do they set the company apart from competing vendors?

What sets Dell apart is our holistic approach. It’s not enough to just add technology. It’s also about connecting people to the right technology and integrating that technology into their workflows. Processes need to be re-examined and, in many cases, re-engineered. So, in addition to the traditional IT products and services Dell is known for, we also offer a robust suite of solutions and services that are specially designed for healthcare. These include secure cloud solutions such as our Unified Clinical Archive, EHR implementation, mobile clinical computing, sophisticated analytics tools, social media integration, HIX and HIE services and support, and clinical transformation. We also have a strong focus on the life sciences, with a genomics analysis platform that supports clinical trials investigating personalized treatments for cancer.

With that, how has the company grown its healthcare arm and how has healthcare IT matured over the past 10 years? In which areas has healthcare diminished or not had enough focus?

Dell has made significant investments in its healthcare portfolio over the last decade, including the acquisition of Perot Systems (now Dell Services) and cloud-based medical archiving leader InSite One. As a private company now, Dell is even more flexible and entrepreneurial, allowing us to serve our healthcare customers with a single-minded purpose and drive the innovations that will help them achieve their goals. Going forward, I think we’ll see an even greater emphasis on mHealth and the role of analytics.

How do you see healthcare IT improving patient care and patient outcomes? Also, please tell me Dell’s definition of “patient engagement.”

People want to encounter care differently, and we must enable technologies that allow different forms of communication. That’s how you engage patients – you meet them where they are and you speak their language. It won’t be the same for everyone, so no one single approach will work. For some, it’s social media. For others, it’s patient portals. For patients with chronic illness, a coordinated care model can improve care and reduce costs in a way that is customized for each patient. Ultimately, having critical information available when and where it is needed is a powerful tool in our efforts to improve efficiency and quality. We call that information-driven healthcare and it works for providers, patients and payers alike.

What is the biggest contribution that Dell has made to health IT in its existence, and what was the biggest contribution to health IT overall in 2014?

That’s a tough one. There have been many, but I have to say that the most personally gratifying contribution overall has been Dell’s ongoing work with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to support a groundbreaking personalized medicine trial for pediatric cancer conducted by the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium (NMTRC). I’m a dad, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for those families. It’s wonderful to see our technology supporting such innovation and to know that it is making a difference in the lives of children with cancer.

I’m also very excited about a partnership we announced earlier this year with the Texas A&M Health Science Center to educate the healthcare workforce of the future to be more IT literate. We’re still launching our first project, but the goal here is to rethink what it means to train our workforce and incorporate technology into what we are doing every day. If we want caregivers to embrace technology and use it to its fullest advantage, we’ve got an obligation to help with that.

What is critical to future successful healthcare IT deployments and strategies?

First, good governance. You need a strong partnership between end users and IT to make sure that clinical needs are met and that the technology implemented is efficient, cost-effective and future-ready. Second, physician leadership and engagement with clinical staff. If the doctors champion the new technology, it is far more likely to succeed. Third, good project management. You have to look at all the workflows that will be affected by the new technology, as well as the policies and procedures involved, and get them aligned. And you have to plan carefully for training, go-live support and how to handle the inevitable glitches. You need a team in place to quickly respond to users who need help, especially at the beginning. If you support your users well and fix problems fast, the end-users will adopt the technology

Tell me about security. What role does cyber security play in healthcare IT and what security challenges does the healthcare industry face?

I think security is one of the biggest challenges facing healthcare CIOs today. The industry is already a primary target for cyber breaches, and the increasing popularity of apps, wearable technologies and BYOD initiatives have further complicated the situation by introducing new access points in the healthcare ecosystem. This necessitates a shift in healthcare’s approach to security, which should focus on guarding an expanding set of endpoints, rather than simply protecting a perimeter. Data must be protected, whether it resides in a data center, in the cloud or on a mobile device. We also need to do a better job at managing the human element of security to most effectively protect against breaches. Unfortunately smart people do stupid things sometimes. In the healthcare setting, patient data is frequently shared among many individuals and across multiple devices. Training and education are crucial to avoid unintentional misuse of data.

What trends or technologies do you see making the biggest disruptions and/or impact on health IT in 2015 or in the near term beyond? Where will we lose ground?

No one single technology will rule the day, but the combination of multiple technologies into one will revolutionize care. I think our love affair with wearable devices will cool off a bit, but the smartphone will continue to gain capabilities and functionality and care systems will adapt to its use.

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