The Cloud

Cloud + Healthcare

Bridget Barnes has spent over 15 years leading strategic information system architecture at Oregon Health Science University (OHSU)—one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals and a vibrant hub of groundbreaking...

An Executive Interview With Bridget Barnes, CIO of Oregon Health Science University (OHSU)

I’ve been chatting with some of the execs I admire—from across a range of industries—to get insights on how they’re using cloud technologies and what it means for their business success—now and in the future.

Bridget Barnes has spent over 15 years leading strategic information system architecture at Oregon Health Science University (OHSU)—one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals and a vibrant hub of groundbreaking healthcare education and research. As Vice President and CIO, she leads a team of over 500 in delivering flawless operations and ongoing innovation for OHSU’s computer and communication systems. 

In this interview, Bridget gives her insights on the impact of the cloud, the particular concerns of public agencies, and the importance of embracing change to support innovation. 

Q: What do you think the impact of the cloud will be on business over the next 5 years?

A: There’s no question in my mind that it will be enormous. The cloud was once just a nebulous idea to most people—now it’s an integrated part of our everyday lives. Every large enterprise is using it to some degree, and that will surely increase. And I think it’s especially important in giving small businesses a competitive advantage. 

As OHSU has grown over the years, we’ve continually looked for the most cost-effective and efficient ways to advance science and serve our patients, so when an innovation as pervasive as cloud becomes reliable and effective, the impact can be potentially massive. 

Q: Are there any cloud technologies you’ve read about or heard about that you find particularly interesting?

A: I read an intriguing article recently about a medical device monitoring company that was moving some product support to the cloud—which is quite outside the norm for the industry at this point. The medical field has been slow to adopt cloud—for very good reasons. People’s lives truly depend on our operations running faultlessly. We can’t take risks with our mission-critical technology. But particular players in the cloud services space are opening up new possibilities for our industry. For instance, AWS is providing grants to researchers as a way to motivate people to look into the cloud. Microsoft and Oracle are also offering opportunities specifically for the academic field. At OHSU, we invest in advanced technology to support our researchers, so there are some promising opportunities out there.

Q: What criteria have you used in evaluating which cloud vendor your company will use?

A: As a public agency, we’re cost-sensitive—making the best use of limited resources is our first measure when evaluating options. Price is key, and we see cloud as an asset in that respect—it opens up new opportunities to be dynamic in the provisioning of solutions. On-prem solutions make that kind of flexibility much more difficult.

Another key consideration at OHSU is privacy and HIPPA compliance. In the past, it was difficult to engage business associates in compliance agreements, but I see that changing. A number of cloud providers are making important commitments on HIPPA compliance, which opens up many more possibilities. This is especially significant for smaller vendors and tech start-ups—enabling them to be HIPPA compliant is crucial.

Q: What advice would you give to CEOs everywhere in regards to emerging technology?

A: The centers of innovation within an organization are vital resources for advancement. In our information technology group, curiosity and passion for striving toward better ways to do things—that’s what drives innovation, which in the end helps our patients and fulfills our mission. But innovation centers don’t always receive the support they need. Smart organizations need to foster incubators, facilitate connections across the company, and give technologists resources to try and fail repeatedly until they get success. 

Q: What advice would you give to people working in technology?

A: Embrace change! I always find it ironic when technologists are the ones who are resistant to change. One of our core functions is to drive change across the organization—so failure to adapt to changes in the field will get in the way of your fundamental responsibility. 

The pace of change is increasing, so it’s more important than ever to realize that just being good at something isn’t enough. Technologists must constantly look for new and better ways to provide value—improving business operations, engaging in the way customers want to communicate, delivering patient care. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t adequate because it doesn’t serve everyone. At OHSU, for example, we might be looking at an application that works well for a certain segment, but isn’t a good solution for, say, a 76-year-old mother facing cognitive challenges. So we must identify solutions that enable engagement for all our patients’ needs. Because our group’s mandate is to make sure our technology serves every patient, and every professional, within our organization. Embracing change and staying ahead of the curve is the only way to fulfill that mission. 

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