Digital 2.0 – The Modern Digital Executive
People, Stories, and Integrity: Why They Matter More Than Technology
Author: Geremy Reiner , Associate Principal, Prime TSR
What is a medical physician doing in tech? And what does a doctor know about AI, software development, and technological innovation, anyway?
That’s what we asked Dr. Ray Gensinger, Chief Information Officer of Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS).
Meet Ray Gensinger
Spend a half-hour with Ray, or glance at his resume, and the answer is clear:
Ray is not just an active participant in the medical technology conversation. He’s been leading it since the mid-1980s. He was there when telehealth was barely an idea, and he helped develop and implement it.
Since then, he’s authored or presented on over 50 healthcare information systems topics. He even co-authored Analytics in Healthcare, the 2014 IT Book of the Year.
Indeed, he’s a certified medical doctor. But he’s also helped shore up healthcare organizations’ information technology strategies for over 35 years.
He started in electronic security, earned his medical degree, and then moved on to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he served as chief medical information officer. After more than a decade of service, he filled a similar role with Fairview Health Services. Next was HSHS, where he’s been since 2014.
Ray knows medicine, patients, and doctors. And he knows their technological needs. So who better to implement medical technology than a doctor who uses it every day?
During our conversation, we covered a lot of ground:
Why complete transformation is the only thing that will save the healthcare industry, the difference between small “i” and big “I” innovation, why Elon Musk deserves the hype, and much more.
Here’s what Ray had to say.
Biggest Lessons Learned About Transforming Companies Digitally
“You want to see real change? Got to do it from the inside.” Ray could’ve stolen those words from the script of any Hollywood blockbuster. But he means it.
Ray’s been in healthcare tech for almost 30 years, but when people find out he’s a doctor, they always ask the same question: Why technology?
The reason is simple: Ray knew that “if physicians were going to transform healthcare from the ground up, [they] couldn’t just leave it to techies.”
Physicians know medicine. Hospitals are their ecosystem. Combine medical expertise with deep technical knowledge, and you have a deadly combination.
Medical technology developed by outsiders is inevitable, but you achieve greater, more focused results when technology’s developed from within, he says. “That’s why I’m here.”
Now working from the inside out, Ray’s privy to a view that most aren’t. From Ray’s angle, the medical industry must do two things to thrive:
- Stop treating technology as a silver bullet
The medical industry is large and equally as expensive. So it lacks expendable people and resources.
When industries are short on good people and money, there’s a temptation to cut corners to get from point A to point B. That’s where the trouble starts.
Quick, impulsive moves rarely work in the medical industry—or any industry for that matter. Neither does implementing technology for technology’s sake.
Ray argues that technology must be introduced with purpose. So before implementing it, healthcare leaders must look at their current tools and processes. Are they using what they already have? If so, and it’s still not enough, then it’s time to see if technology will improve it. Never before.
A decade ago, healthcare had one revenue stream: providing care. Diversification didn’t exist, and revenue streams were either controlled by the federal government or competitors.
Innovating without generating revenue is a struggle. And that’s the reality health systems face. But Ray is seeing that change more and more. Now, healthcare organizations have investment portfolios, invest in outside companies, and are moving into new spaces.
For Ray, that’s the only way forward.
How Ray Defines Innovation
What does “digital innovation” mean? Ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different answers. But Ray gives one of the most straightforward answers I’ve heard yet.
He argues that you can break “innovation” down into two elements: small “i” innovation and capital “I” innovation.
Small “i” innovation is passive. As he puts it, it’s not going to “knock the socks off the industry.” Passive innovation is content with keeping an eye on the industry and keeping pace.
Capital “I” innovation is active innovation. It’s motivated to solve problems people didn’t even know they had.
Biggest Impact on Digital Innovation For The Next 10 Years
If healthcare organizations want to be around in 10 years, Ray argues they need to make a choice between active or passive innovation. “Five years ago, I didn’t care what Geisinger Medical Center or the Cleveland Clinic did,” he says. And he didn’t care what Google, Amazon, and Apple were doing either. That’s changed.
A few years ago, Apple and Amazon sold things. If you wanted a computer, you’d go to Apple. For the rest of it, you went to Amazon and had it shipped to your house.
That was then. Now companies like Apple and Amazon can reach into our organizations (healthcare included) and change how we do things.
These companies have not only found one niche, they’ve found them all—and they’re moving in.
To succeed, healthcare organizations must not only keep pace but actively innovate ahead of competitors that weren’t orbiting the same atmosphere.
Companies To Watch: Who's Embracing Digital Innovation?
Back in the 1980s, AT&T suddenly brought broadband to the world. With that came telehealth—and it took 35 years to make telemedicine services really work. These days, changes occur in lightspeed.
Now, hospitals fund the start-ups that custom-build technology for them. The trouble now isn’t that we don’t have enough scheduling apps or text message appointment reminder platforms—it’s that we have too many of them.
But that’s not what’s really bothering Ray. It’s that healthcare still lags behind in offering streamlined services through networks that talk to each other. I asked Ray to elaborate, and here’s what he said:
“Healthcare needs to do what the travel industry’s done for decades.”
Remember what it used to be like to rent a car at the airport? You’d wait to get off the plane. You’d wait for your luggage to drop on the rotating turnstile. Then you’d wait for the car rental clerk to manually print a 30-page liability document. Then you’d have to sign all 30 pages.
Now you can circumvent that laborious process by using Booking.com. And not only that, you can even book your hotel and car in one click. Just show up with an ID and credit card, and you’re off to see the local sites in your car.
Ray puts it succinctly: “Unlike the travel industry, healthcare is still rife with roadblocks and aggravation. There’s too much standing between people and the product. Worse, we’re still paying employees to process and untangle the junk that stands in the way.”
Digital 2.0 Hot Seat: Real, Hype, Or WTF
I closed our conversation with a series of rapid-fire questions covering five of my favorite topics: AI, the Metaverse, crypto, Elon Musk, and remote/hybrid work.
Here’s what Ray had to say.
AI – Hype, Real, or WTF?
“Totally real, but we’re going to mess it up 10 times along the way. I worry that these ‘mess-ups’ will harm people, which is disconcerting. But once we do figure it out, AI will be the new economy and lead us to better healthcare.
Metaverse – Hype, Real, or WTF?
“I’m tempted to say ‘WTF,’ but it’s real. It’s a place where kids and grandparents can connect and interact. I wish I didn’t have to be there, but I don’t know how to get out of it.”
Crypto – Hype, Real, or WTF?
“Totally WTF. Once we figure out the negative environmental impact of managing crypto, it will be mind-boggling.”
Elon Musk – Hype, Real, or WTF?
“Say what you want, but Musk reinvigorated space flight. He made reusable rocketry possible. We didn’t seriously talk about going to Mars before him. And that doesn’t even factor in his contributions to transportation and electric vehicles.”
Remote/Hybrid Work – Hype, Real, or WTF?
“It’s what our employees want. We’re a social species, so while I can’t predict what remote will do to us as a society, I promise remote is here to stay.”
Thank you, Ray, for such an insightful interview.