Getting a pulse on your market

As CIO for Quest Diagnostics, the leading diagnostic testing company in the U.S., I not only have to keep information technology operations running, I also have responsibility to use IT to create competitive advantage and to deliver value-added services and products for our customers.

Developing market knowledge — gaining a better understanding of the health-care industry and our customers’ needs — isn’t a sideline activity, it’s part of my role and it’s critical to my company’s growth.

A broad and deep understanding of your business, your market and your customers enables you to identify the products and services that will create sustained value for your customers and sustained competitive advantage for your company. Such understanding, along with knowledge of technology trends, is essential to aligning IT and business strategies to drive growth.

As a health-care company, we provide services to multiple customers including physicians, hospitals, health plans, employers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and of course patients, who are at the center of everything we do. Because we work with all of these constituents, we have a 360-degree view of the health-care market and its trends. Seventy percent of health-care decisions involve laboratory test information, so laboratories such as ours are at the center of many health-care IT initiatives. We spend a lot of time with our business partners and customers understanding their needs and how technology can have the most positive impact.

From market needs to value-added services

Here are some examples of how we have used our understanding of customer needs and market drivers to deliver value-added IT services:

We recognized that on-line services could make it easier for large segments of our patient and physician customers to do business with us, and so we identified and developed several new Internet-based services. For instance, thousands of patients visit our Patient Service Centers (PSC) to have blood drawn for tests.

We know that a key factor in creating a positive patient experience is to minimize a patient’s wait time in the PSC, so we implemented an on-line appointment scheduling service. A patient can quickly identify PSC locations that are convenient, schedule an appointment, and retrieve driving directions. According to our surveys, patients love the convenience of the on-line service, which puts them in control of their busy day.

Another on-line service is the Care360 Physician Portal, used by over 100,000 physicians to order tests and receive test reports electronically. Recognizing that electronic prescribing would be a major thrust in the health-care industry to reduce medication errors, we integrated electronic prescribing into our Care360 product. The integration of labs and meds in the Care360 physician portal gives physicians critical information when they need it and helps improve the quality of care.

Of course, emerging technology is another market force that determines what we are able to do for our customers. Using technology to drive innovation helps us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Point-of-care testing, in which the collection of samples, testing and reporting of results occurs within minutes in the doctor’s office or hospital, is growing as a practice in the health-care industry as a whole. Quest Diagnostics has recently acquired several point-of-care product companies and is now working to enhance Care360 to interface with these products. This will provide physicians with an aggregated view of laboratory results, whether performed in their offices or our laboratories.

Having all of that information available to physicians electronically provides a more comprehensive view of a patient’s health, which otherwise would require manual searches through multiple pieces of paper.

How to be a market-savvy CIO

One way to understand the market is to read about products from a range of industry groups, as well as from trade magazines and journals. On the IT side, we have architects and engineers who are responsible for looking at technology trends through similar methods. It can be hard, because we’re inundated with so many different sources of information, but it’s important to identify three or four key sources that are particularly valuable and try to stay on top of them. We also have people assigned to follow what’s going on from a regulatory and policy point of view, and to summarize their findings on a routine basis.

Also spend time with your customers and business partners; ask questions, listen and learn. Combine that insight with your expertise in information technology and you are well on your way to being a market-savvy CIO and a generator of growth for your company. I was fortunate to work in marketing for our health-care IT subsidiary, MedPlus, before I became CIO. There I was focused on growth and the customer. I brought that perspective with me to the CIO role; therefore, I did not make IT operations my singular priority as most IT professionals do. Additionally, having responsibility for marketing a customer product gave me a strong grounding in three important customer bases: health plans, physicians and patients. My experience gave me greater insight into the opportunities to leverage IT as a growth engine.

Create a market-savvy IT team

No matter how well you understand your market, you will not generate enough ideas for sustained advantage by yourself. But creating the culture and passion to sustain IT as a growth engine is not going to happen overnight. To create lasting change, the IT organization as a whole needs to have passion for its responsibility to drive growth.

At Quest Diagnostics, we started by creating a new vision for the IT organization that focused on growth, as well as on how we wanted to be viewed by customers and business partners.

We drafted the vision with a small number of staff and then gave the whole organization an opportunity to participate in the process.

Then we launched several teams composed of individuals from all levels of the organization, who were tasked with driving changes to our IT processes and metrics that would enable us to achieve our vision: to deliver solutions that enhance the company’s value proposition; to focus on creating competitive advantage in the marketplace; and to be recognized for innovation and performance As CIOs, we are in a unique position to use our knowledge, insights and technology expertise to drive growth for our companies. IT is more than an enabler of business efficiency; it provides a competitive advantage. But only if we align IT strategies with growth. This is our obligation and responsibility. It is not a choice.

Mary Hall Gregg is CIO and vice president, information with Quest Diagnostics in Madison, N.J., and a member of the CIO Executive Council. Before joining Quest Diagnostics, she was deputy CIO at the American Red Cross.

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