IT and Healthcare: Evolving Together at the Cleveland Clinic

Photo courtesy of Cleveland Clinic

With its slogan ???Every life deserves world-class care,??? the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio has staked out a distinctive role in consumer-centric, innovative healthcare ??? including the development and use of medical IT. Founded in 1921, the clinic is known for its high standards of research and practice and its ongoing role in fostering innovation and reducing costs. Since the late 1990s, U.S. News and World Report has ranked it number one in cardiac care. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the hospital system, has an entrepreneurial arm called Cleveland Clinic Innovations (CCI), which develops and commercializes products and services based on research and practice breakthroughs by physicians and other clinic employees. The clinic???s use of robotically assisted heart surgery and heart valve repair, for example, was initially developed through CCI. In total, more than 35 enterprises have been spun off from CCI activity, and the organization is currently helping other hospitals create similar initiatives. The Cleveland Clinic itself has a 41-building campus, 10 affiliated hospitals in Ohio, and a growing presence around the U.S. and the world, with a new affiliated hospital opening in Abu Dhabi and another planned for Singapore.

At the heart of all this is the clinic???s comprehensive use of information technology. The chief information officer is C. Martin Harris, MD; he also serves as a health technology advisor for President Barack Obama. The clinic is a pioneer in providing information to patients and linking patient involvement with medical records and healthcare practice improvement. It is also vigorously experimenting with medical IT in new forms of patient engagement and education, including social media. In this interview, conducted in 2011, Martin Harris explains his view of two rapidly changing arenas, information technology and healthcare, and how they could evolve together. This interview is also available in video format.

S B: Can you discuss your role at the Cleveland Clinic, and how you see this role changing?
HARRIS: Our strategy ??? to transform healthcare and to be able to deliver greater value to patients over time ??? is closely tied to our effective adoption of information technology, which is critical in improving the actual outcomes that we can deliver to patients. In my role as leader of the strategic planning process and of the information technology division, I really get to see the marriage of those two. The result of that truly is transformation ??? the ability to start thinking about delivering care in ways that we???ve never thought about before.

S B: What are the key components of the Cleveland Clinic???s care model ??? the secret sauce for its success?
HARRIS: We are focused on the patient first. Second, our model of care is physician-led, and we coordinate our services across a spectrum of related clinical specialties focused on the patient. Third, our group culture is really the secret sauce. For 90 years, we have worked in a collaborative fashion, and that is the greatest challenge for healthcare in the 21st century. It has become far more complex, and in order to deliver great outcomes for patients, our physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and administrative staff have to work as a team on behalf of the patient.

S B: Technology, and IT in particular, plays a strategic role in any healthcare institution. How is IT positioned at the Cleveland Clinic?
HARRIS: Ten years ago, as we were thinking about technology, we decided that we wouldn???t focus on delivering content over the Internet. We felt that there were other organizations that could do that well. Instead, we would focus on service over the Internet. What has been strategic about our application of technology is thinking about how we can use it to affect the care delivery model. Let me give you a couple of examples.