By Aine Cryts

Francis Richards, CIO, Geisinger Health System

Francis Richards, CIO, Geisinger Health System

Francis Richards, senior vice president of information technology and CIO at Geisinger Health System (Danville, Pa), says that investing in mobile platforms and patient portals will deliver financial savings and will help keep people healthy. AXIS explores the topic with Richards.

How will Geisinger’s investments in mobile apps and patient portals help your patients?

Richards: Healthcare, for most of our lives, had been focused on helping sick people get better. The real win is when we get to people before they get sick.

The sickest 5% of consumers spend close to 50% of our healthcare dollars. It doesn’t take that much to bend the cost curve to help those with chronic diseases and keep them healthy for as long as we can. Mobile apps and patient portals that provide reminders and lifestyle guidelines can make a difference.

How about engaging with young people, specifically?

Richards: Young people don’t want to see doctors at all. They want to interact through their smartphones. There’s this whole notion of “gamification,” where you look at how you can engage teenagers in fun things they could do to stay healthy and active.

We’re looking at getting beyond the nagging reminders. We want to make it a little more engaging for young people to be cognizant of their lifestyle choices. For example, I’ve seen more people wearing Fitbit for measuring their heart rate. If you could make that more like a game for teens, you might actually engage them.

How are you supporting your elderly patients?

Richards: We have to engage with the elderly patient’s entire care team, which includes their family. That’s why we provide family members with proxy access to their elderly parent’s patient portal. It helps their son or daughter keep an eye on the medications they’re taking.

It matters, too, because we’re really trying to get people to be active in their own healthcare—not just passive receivers of pills that they may or may not take.

What’s on your “wish list” for EHR vendors when it comes to integrating data from patients’ mobile health apps?

Richards: We have a lot of patients who use Fitbit. The issue is we don’t have a good way to really incorporate that data into a holistic view of our patients.

Here’s the challenge I present to EHR vendors: We need to have a standard for collection and dissemination of the data. Standards are a big deal because analyzing all of this information never gets to the point where it’s “plug and play.” We need access to that data so it’s immediately recognizable in our EHR.

Your advice for other CIOs?

Richards: First, remember it’s all about the patient. You need to make sure your mobile apps and patient portals are simple to use.

Second, this is not a one-time investment you’re going to walk away from. If you don’t keep this technology up to date, you’re probably wasting your money.

About Francis Richards:

Francis Richards is senior vice president of information technology and chief information officer for the Geisinger Health System. He is responsible for all aspects of information technology (IT) for the system, including strategic planning, IT integration with key business initiatives, establishing enterprise-wide IT standards and proactive staff development.

Richards has a bachelor of science in chemistry from Juniata College (Huntingdon, Pa) and did postgraduate work in biochemistry at Ohio State University.