Bernie Rice hasn’t always worked in healthcare. He previously served in the United States Air Force and as an information systems manager with Anheuser-Busch.
But in 1999, he joined Nemours Children’s Health System, where he currently serves as chief information officer and enterprise vice president. Rice has been CIO of the Jacksonville, Florida-based system since 2008. In addition to locations in Florida, Nemours, a nonprofit pediatric system, offers care in Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In a phone interview, Rice discussed the trends he noticed at HIMSS, how his past experiences have informed his current work and why he’s passionate about precision medicine.
What follows is an edited version of the Q&A.
MedCity: How does the fact that you’re CIO of a pediatric system impact your work?
Rice: Being pediatric-focused, it really does change things.
In the telehealth world, some of the equipment we needed didn’t exist. We tried to find a blood pressure cuff with Bluetooth for a child, but we had to work with a vendor to create one that works for children.
When we were working on construction, the nurse counter around the unit is typically built at the parent’s height. We had to design it so it’s down lower at the child’s height. You wouldn’t have thought of that in a normal hospital.
MedCity: You became CIO of Nemours a little more than a decade ago, in 2008. How have the system’s approach and your job changed since then?
Rice: Ten years ago, it was called the chief of information technology. It was the lead IT position and has evolved into the current title of enterprise vice president and CIO.
In the early days, it was much more technology and IT-focused. It has evolved into including not only technology, but also the operations standpoint.
MedCity: Did your experiences in the U.S. Air Force and at Anheuser-Busch informed your work in healthcare? If so, how?
Rice: They definitely did. I’ve always been in the technology world. In the military, I was in the security world. Then moving to Anheuser-Busch, it was the technology that supported making beer.
I responded to this job. I knew nothing about healthcare. But it’s applying the same kind of tech aspects, and I was able to take a lot of those learnings into healthcare. In this case, it was applying technology to people, not applying it to beer. The connection to the mission has probably kept me here. It’s a special mission, and that’s one of the reasons many of our folks stay.
MedCity: As you came into healthcare, was it a steep learning curve?
Rice: It’s learning a different language. From a technology aspect, we were really infusing technology. When I came to Nemours, healthcare was an industry that was in need of technology. It was learning a lot of the healthcare lingo. I’m affecting a child’s life here potentially. It was about understanding that perspective — that it could impact the patient’s safety.
MedCity: Nemours is currently redesigning chronic care management and prevention through digital innovation, specifically within asthma and cardiac care. What details can you provide on that effort?
Rice: I think the impact of consumerism is coming to healthcare. How do we bring that concept of the consumer approach and do it through the patient’s eyes?
We have our five digital assets — which includes our patient portal — and we’re trying to bring them into one app and make it specific to the context of [the patient’s] condition or request. If I’m an asthma patient, it’s making sure that app is reminding me of, did you take your medication?
It also changes the relationship between the patient and the doctor. Previously, the doctor didn’t really know what [the patient was] doing. Now … there’s a constant flow of information through this app instead of the episodic care that was provided. [Patients] can also hit a button and start a telehealth session immediately.
We started the pilot around getting around getting the right technology in place. We’re working with vendors like Epic to leverage their APIs. We thought we would start with a very specific condition, asthma, and get that working. We’ve moved to cardiac next. And now that those are rolling, we’re going to broaden it very quickly.
MedCity: What top trends did you notice at HIMSS this year?
Rice: Certainly the buzzwords this year seemed to be artificial intelligence and machine learning. Everywhere you looked, that’s what you saw. I do think those are two very important aspects. One thing that didn’t seem as prominent this year was the blockchain. It certainly has promise, but we’re not sure what that is yet in some ways.
MedCity: What technologies or other aspects of medicine do you think have great potential in 2019?
Rice: My passion is beginning to turn toward precision medicine. It’s about how do we tailor the care for you, Erin as an individual, and not Erin as a female at this age. It’s really tailored to your specific body.
As an IT person, [precision medicine] really leverages technology and computing. We can now process these large amounts of data and inform that physician of what drug is going to work for that patient, versus trial and error.
MedCity: Anything else you’d like to touch on?
Rice: Another thing I would add is we have been pioneering telehealth for three plus years now. Healthcare needs some regulatory reform. Every state we deal with is different, and that hampers the development of telehealth. That’s another area that healthcare is going to continue to grapple with.
Photo: MATJAZ SLANIC, Getty Images