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Healthcare CIO taps AWS public cloud for research services

The AWS public cloud allowed IT staff at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital to enable precision medicine capabilities for hospital research staff.

Researchers at a Chicago-based pediatric research institute needed greater access to tools and services for initiatives such as precision medicine. The hospital CIO turned to AWS public cloud to provide that access.

Lisa Dykstra, senior vice president and CIO at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, became involved in the effort to bring new tools and capabilities to research staff after starting on a CEO-driven initiative to merge the health system's enterprise IT staff with research IT staff two years ago. The research IT team previously operated as a separate part of the organization through the Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute, the hospital's research arm.

Lisa DykstraLisa Dykstra

"Taking on the research institute and all of their emerging business needs, we knew we had to create a closer partnership with them," she said during the virtual CHIME20 Digital Recharge event. "We knew they had certain areas of expertise, we had certain areas of expertise, so what we wanted to do was build something that would work for us together."

Working in partnership with cloud infrastructure development company Ahead in Chicago, Dykstra began to build a platform on AWS public cloud that would support specific strategic initiatives for research staff, starting with precision medicine.

Supporting research initiatives on AWS public cloud

Tom Pohlmann, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of customer success at Ahead, said there are four primary buckets for public cloud adoption in health IT: business intelligence and analytics, research using AI and machine learning, operational efficiency and collaboration.

For this effort, Dykstra leveraged AWS public cloud for the research support capabilities that could enable some of the strategic priorities for the institute's research staff. Precision medicine, a disease treatment approach that incorporates individual patient factors such as genes and environment, was one of the first strategic priorities.

To make the precision medicine initiative successful, Dykstra said she and her team relied on continuous learning and trial and error to get it right. Yet providing a secure platform was a main focus right off the bat, she said.

Where do we allow security to drive versus innovation, we had to find our balance and we did it along the way.
Lisa Dykstra SVP and CIO, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital

"Where do we allow security to drive versus innovation, we had to find our balance and we did it along the way," Dykstra said. "It wasn't crystal clear when we set out on this journey, but we had to find our balance and agility and the need for experimentation with change control methodologies and regulatory and data safety and standards. For us, it was about developing that balance and sometimes we tipped it one way and sometimes we tipped it the other way."

Dykstra said the team also developed a "war room mentality" in designing and implementing the precision medicine initiative.

"We were having regular calls daily, weekly and monthly," she said. "It was having everyone on deck to see how we can continue to expand, and identify when we were having problems and how to solve them."

Success drivers

One of the key success drivers behind the precision medicine initiative on AWS public cloud was strong support from the hospital's executive team. The second success driver was building a team focused on accomplishing the precision medicine initiative, a team that included cloud administrators, the hospital security team, enterprise infrastructure and network security teams, and application team members who dealt with a significant amount of data coming from the EHR.

Dykstra said moving to the AWS public cloud has been a learning experience. For other CIOs looking to start a similar journey to the public cloud, she recommended identifying key team member skill sets early to enable the transition and finding a technical translator.

"We often think we're communicating all of these things in the way our business colleagues or our clinician colleagues want to hear it, but in reality, some of the time through their lens, they don't see it or we're not communicating it in a way they can ingest it," she said.

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