Five Qs: Annette Marcath on Changes in Health Care IT

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Annette Marcath, vice president of information technology and CIO of Detroit-based Health Alliance Plan, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the changing landscape of IT in health care.

1. DDN: What projects are you working on?

AM: We just went through a considerable amount of change at HAP, where we changed about 75 percent of our applications to get us where we needed to be with the Affordable Care Act. So the next thing is really to optimize (those applications) and how we interact with people. We used to deal more so with employer groups, so you would have an employer that would represent 100 to 150 people. Now in some cases, we’re dealing with those 150 people individually. My goal is to make sure that our technology supports that change in how we do business. We’re going from a B2B to B2C in some cases. 

2. DDN: What’s the work load for IT professionals in health care right now?

AM: It’s been pretty dynamic for us. Anybody can look at the newspapers and see some of the challenges (the federal government has) had with (HealthCare.gov). So we’re downstream of those challenges. When they extend deadlines, for instance, those are things that impact us pretty significantly. (We need) to make sure that our customers aren’t disrupted and that people have access to the things we have.

We also have to keep up with the changing requirements out there. It’s a highly regulated industry now. Everybody knows of the Target stores (security) breach, which I think put everyone on super hyper alert. Nobody wants to have his or her information breached from a financial perspective, but I would say the same thing of health care. People don’t want others to know where they went to the doctor, and what their diagnosis was. In some cases, we have as much information about people as the credit card companies do.

3. DDN: What are the long-term goals for HAP?

AM: Security is going to continue to be very important to us. It used to be that you would try to keep the bad guys from coming into your system. Now you have to protect it from the people that are inside the building. Not that I’m saying that we have bad people at HAP — I don’t mean it that way. But you have to protect the information both ways. So that is something that we’re going to pay attention to.

The other thing is our digital strategy, (which is) how we deal with things on mobile devices and how we deal with our customers. How do we get people to come to HAP and take advantage of the customer service we have? When I look at technology, to some extent, I have to stay a step ahead of the business a little bit. So as they’re coming up with these great innovative ideas to help support our customers, I have to make sure that I can turn that around very quickly to support that and the people trying to get the customer experience they want. Because if you come to our site and you’re not happy with us the first time, you’re not likely to come back.

4. DDN: What other industry trends have you noticed?

AM: In college, it was always BYOB. Now it’s BYOD, or bring your own device. So instead of a company providing a laptop or a workstation, people are bringing their own devices — their iPads and laptops to work. It’s a little more personalized, and we’re seeing it in many organizations.

From an IT perspective, the challenge is that we have to make everything secure. And if you have 50 people and they have 50 different types of computers they’re working with, then we have to make sure our systems work with 50 different things. It’s a little more complex, but from an economic perspective, (the company) isn’t purchasing those things, so there’s a little bit of give and take in those areas.

5. DDN: A survey from Harvey Nash reported that only 8 percent of CIOs in 2013 were women, with 14 percent of organizations reporting that there weren’t any women in their IT departments. Does this sound consistent with what you’ve seen?

AM: You see a few women here and there, but information technology is definitely a male-dominated industry. (Compared to) when I first started my career, there are more women in the field now, which is good. You see more men in the networking engineering and tabling fields, whereas if you look at web design, and those kind of things, I think you see more women doing that.

There are a lot of organizations now that are encouraging women and young girls (to get) into technology and be whatever they want to be. There are scholarships and camps and things like that. It’s important that young women have those kinds of opportunities, to show them that (pursuing) science and math is not a bad thing.

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