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By Lidia L. Fonseca, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Quest Diagnostics

When I talked to Quest Diagnostics Chairman, President, and CEO Steve Rusckowski about joining the business in 2014, he described in crystal-clear language the company’s vision: Quest is more than a medical laboratory.

As someone who had worked in healthcare technology and operations leadership roles for much of my career – with a particular focus on (and passion for) data and analytics and business transformation – I found this vision both appealing and inspirational. In fact, it was a key reason behind my decision to join the company.

That vision—to be much more than a lab—is even stronger today than it was then. Yes, we are the leader in providing diagnostic information services. But we continue to push the meaning of “more than a lab” even further.  We don’t simply provide testing. We deliver insights. My team plays an integral role in executing on every aspect of Quest’s vision.

As CIO, I am first and foremost responsible for such things as networks, security, and data center operations. But I also serve as the de facto chief technology officer for the company, leading the team that develops our client-facing data and technology solutions in collaboration with our Strategy group and our Information Ventures franchise. Lastly, as executive sponsor of our business transformation program, I help drive digital enablement of the business, standardization across our processes and operations, and enhancement of the customer experience.

Increasing the Return on Data

Quest Diagnostics is a company that prides itself on innovation and turning our brand promise, “Action from Insight,” into reality. As the world leader in diagnostic information services, Quest has a long track record of industry firsts, and today provides thousands of laboratory test services in areas as diverse as diabetes screening to DNA sequencing. One in three American adults use our services each year.

Underlying the delivery of these services is a national connectivity and information technology infrastructure. To date, Quest has created some 60 platforms for the medical laboratory industry, including a first-of-its kind lab workflow solution. We also connect with nearly 600 electronic health records, or EHR, platforms and have IT connectivity with half the physicians and hospitals in the U.S.

This connectivity, combined with Quest’s wealth of valuable lab data, enables us to provide valuable healthcare insights, not just for physicians and patients, but for biopharmaceutical companies, health plans and health systems, and even policy makers.

Just as important, through our development of new technology we turn those insights into actions that help people and organizations across the entire ecosystem align to improve care quality, value, and satisfaction. These are the kinds of insights that will be increasingly important as the healthcare market evolves from a reactive one that is focused on treating the sick to an outcome-based industry that is tasked with keeping people well.

As part of Quest’s efforts to help providers and health insurers use data and analytics to promote quality care at lower costs, we recently launched QuestQuanum, our innovative suite of data analytics and information technology solutions. Quanum brings forward our expertise generating insights from data, including our own dataset of more than 20 billion test results.

It helps healthcare professionals capitalize on data to assess clinical performance and improve outcomes, while facilitating patient-clinician connections through easy-to-use portals and mobile solutions that enable two-way communications and patient education.

One of the analytics solutions that we’re particularly proud of is our Data Diagnostics offering, which we offer jointly with Inovalon. Part of the Quanum suite, Data Diagnostics is a point-of-care analytics technology that provides physicians with patient-specific reports that can help inform clinical decisions, diagnostics coding, and other actions that affect quality of care and reimbursement. Physicians can order the reports before or during a patient visit and take immediate actions to close gaps in care, while they’re with their patient.

As a CIO, I’ve always been a firm believer that to be a technology team developing effective solutions, we need a real understanding of our customer. But we do more than just integrate customer input into our solutions. We get to experience the full customer cycle. We’re there when they select Quest and when we set them up with our data, connectivity, and technology solutions. This provides us with insight that not only helps generate top-line revenue but also helps us anticipate and serve customer needs.

In fact, we believe Quest is unique in its ability to apply our knowledge of both healthcare and technology in order to benefit our customers. Whether those are focused on revenue cycle management, lab utilization, or quality metrics, we can connect patients, providers, and payers with actionable insights based on lab, clinical, quality, and claims data.

An Industrial Strength Platform

To get where we are—and to enable us to continue evolving as an innovator—it was important for Quest to create an “industrial strength” big data platform, that could handle the volume and velocity of the data we are collecting. After that, we needed to run the data though a “data quality process” that would create master data instances. It took the first year and a half I was at Quest for our team to get that detailed grunt work done. But once we went through that process, our innovation rate sped up tremendously, allowing us to successfully create and introduce new solutions much faster.

In addition to new technology, we also needed new skills. It was important for us to bring in key talent to complement the existing talent, enhancing our organization with data scientists and data architects, as well as a new head of analytics and informatics. We are keenly aware of the fact that the entire world is competing to recruit this level of data talent, but Quest Diagnostics has been able to attract and retain the right people for the job because of our collective vision and what we’ve set out to accomplish.

The CIO as Change Agent

As a transformation agent by nature, I immediately welcomed the chance to sponsor the business transformation at Quest Diagnostics. One of the key tenets of our transformation is to leverage common processes and systems so that we can present a united front to the market. This has become increasingly important as the healthcare industry has consolidated and we are serving more and more customers on a national scale.

As Quest had earlier gone through a series of acquisitions, each region had its own processes and systems, and a major goal has been to create alignment between these systems. We have worked closely with our sites and our operations to 1) design common ways of working, and 2) enhance our systems to enable those ways of working. This has allowed us to spend less effort supporting duplicate systems and processes, freeing up more resources to drive innovation.

While standardization is a difficult and complex endeavor, particularly without disrupting the business, we are now more than halfway through this four-year business transformation journey, and 85 percent of our orders today flow through our standard platform.

What I like about leading business transformation is that it's a cross-functional effort. It involves operations and commercial, laboratory directors and medical staff, technology and finance. It’s all-encompassing, and Quest Diagnostics has been able to move the needle with this initiative because everyone has devoted attention and effort to it.

Moving Fast and Mixing It Up

I have always said, “If you think you are in control, you’re moving too slow,” and that encapsulates the nature of my job. Managing the mix of elements involved across my three roles energizes me. I love the variety. Some of the work requires managing day-to-day challenges effectively, while other aspects involve planting seeds that will take time to come to fruition. Everything we do involves collaboration with others to be successful, and that is part of the fun.

It’s also been exciting to share what I’ve learned in outside advisory and board-level positions that complement my work at Quest. I served on the advisory board for a data company to help plan its go-to-market strategy. I am a board member for Tegna (formerly Gannett), where I offer my perspective on the disruption taking place in the media industry. Conversely, serving on the board of a public B2C company has offered valuable perspective on my work at Quest, as we expand our Consumer channel through solutions like MyQuest and in my work on the team that manages our partnership with AncestryDNA.

To me, there has never been a more exciting or challenging time to be a CIO. Technology is evolving quickly, and with so many aspects of business dependent upon technology, particularly at Quest, my team and I have a unique opportunity to work cross-functionally across the company to help jumpstart innovation and initiatives. This means not only striving to enhance the consumer and provider experience, but committing to improving quality, outcomes, and overall patient care.

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Partnering for Progress

The best advice I can give to other CIOs overseeing data or technology driven transformation is to forge partnerships to accelerate excellence. Sometimes there is an assumption that you must build everything internally, but strong partners can inject speed and new thinking into IT and your overall business that you might have otherwise missed.

At Quest, we believe healthcare is a team sport. And it’s thanks in part to our collaborations that we have been able to go to market with innovative solutions so quickly. For example, we partner with Inovalon on our point-of-care healthcare analytics technology, Data Diagnostics. We collaborate with IBM on cancer genomics. We teamed up with Safeway to offer convenient diagnostic testing in their grocery stores. The business landscape is simply too complex to navigate alone. Partnerships can be a key to success.

 

The Takeaways 
For a technology team to develop innovative solutions, it needs to understand your customers. And that involves more than simply seeking customer input; you need to experience the entire customer cycle. This provides insight that can help generate top-line growth, as well as help you anticipate customer needs.
There aren’t enough data scientists and data architects to meet the tremendous demand for them in the business world. You can give yourself an advantage in recruiting and retaining them by articulating a compelling vision of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Outside advisory and board-level positions that complement your work don’t only offer an opportunity to share your expertise. They can also a valuable outside perspective on meeting current challenges in your own company.