Making the Impossible Possible

How Daniela Crivianu-Gaita’s information management and technology department is helping SickKids improve its care and the lives of children

Health care is changing faster than ever before, and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is leading the way. Located in Toronto, the facility is recognized as one of the world’s foremost pediatric institutions and as Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research, and education. SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals, and it has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.

The hospital’s medical advancements in the past decade alone seem innumerable. SickKids doctors and scientists have, among many other milestones, identified a gene that leads to prostate cancer, discovered links between MS and juvenile diabetes, performed a lifesaving heart procedure on a baby in utero, used an artificial lung to keep a patient living until donor lungs were identified, found one of the genetic variations responsible for kidney failure in diabetics, and uncovered that the most common malignant type of childhood brain tumour is actually four different diseases.

A hospital that operates as such a leading-class facility needs a technology infrastructure capable of supporting and enabling its innovations, so Daniela Crivianu-Gaita, vice president and chief information officer, leads a dynamic team within the dynamic organization. “IT is about more than keeping the lights on and running the servers,” she says. “We’re trying to do so much more than the traditional things.”

5 Questions
with Daniela Crivianu-Gaita

 

What does innovation mean to your organization?
Innovation became one of our strategic directions several years ago. How we learned to think about it is defined by promoting creative thinking and the adoption of new ideas in all areas of the organization.

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your organization forward?
There are lots of trends in health care, like the switch toward personalized treatments. These trends always translate to sophisticated tools and medical devices that we must integrate into our systems.

How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We create discussions. We are an academic centre, so the culture is natural, but the next step is to facilitate new ideas and make sure they are shared. We must allow everyone to participate in the generation and implementation of ideas. We do that through the internal social-media tools but also through the way frontline managers work with their staff every day.

Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
The hospital will continue to be a leading-class organization and stay true to our vision of healthier children and a better world.

How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
It’s become embedded into our organization. It’s been there all the time, but we’ve put a structure in place to try to make it prominent and make sure there is a mechanism in place to put these ideas into action. It’s become part of our fabric now.

As is becoming the norm in health care, Crivianu-Gaita has a larger set of responsibilities than those in IT alone. She also manages medical-engineering services (acquiring, implementing, and maintaining medical equipment), health records, and admitting functions. The combined disciplines form a department known as information management and technology (IMT), which supports the hospital’s strategic plan and mission, encompassed in its tagline: “Healthier Children. A Better World.” “We are constantly looking at what innovative technologies can impact delivery of care, advance research, and improve education,” Crivianu-Gaita says.

Currently, the IMT department is working to advance its organization’s use of digitized medical records. Until recently, there were specialized parts of SickKids for which there was no tech solution available on the market. Crivianu-Gaita and her colleagues have been constantly searching for technology solutions and implementing and developing software and tools to gather information, digitize records, and integrate them with medical devices. SickKids hopes to operate with fully integrated health records by 2016 or 2017. To get there, its tech teams are following a strategic plan to hit milestones every 12 months.

Crivianu-Gaita admits that implementation of technology in health care is more complex than in other industries. Hospitals are home to clinicians, students, researchers, administrators, and others, who all work in specialized ways. “The people we support are usually not sitting at a desk,” Crivianu-Gaita says. “The IT concept of asking someone to find the same computer and log in just doesn’t fit.” The explosion of mobile technology and wireless infrastructure is changing this as more and more hospital staff members use tablets and smartphones.

In recent years, the IT team at SickKids has focused on enabling mobility and en­hancing communication. A few years ago, the hospital introduced an internal social media site called Wikidea (pronounced Wi-Kid-EE-Ah) to generate ideas and facilitate interaction between more than 8,000 employees. Anyone with a “challenge” can post a question and solicit feedback from his or her peers. Crivianu-Gaita posted her own challenge and received 1,200 responses over the course of three weeks.

Today, mobile apps are available for staff and patients alike. In 2011, SickKids implemented myIBD, a mobile app designed to help patients with inflammatory bowel disease transition to adult care. The free app, available on iPhones and Android devices, tracks disease activity so that patients can accurately monitor, remember, and report their experiences. Educational videos help the afflicted understand IBD and determine an appropriate food regimen. Patients in many countries around the world have downloaded and used myIBD since its release, three years ago.

As health care continues its rapid evolution, Crivianu-Gaita keeps pace by leveraging big data for predictive analytics. One major initiative, Project Artemis, helps doctors observe data from NICU patients to detect infections earlier than ever before. Another major initiative dealing with big data is the T3 solution, deployed in the ICU. To support these initiatives, the IMT department must leverage huge amounts of data from medical devices and apply very complex algorithms.

Amazing things are happening in health care and health IT. “It’s not about technology itself but what you do with the technology—how you acquire the data and transform it into knowledge—that makes a real difference,” Crivianu-Gaita says. With this focus, her team is helping to make real improvements for care providers and patients as technology continues to transform rapidly alongside a fast-moving medical field.