The path to yes: Stanford Medicine leans on technology in the relentless drive to heal

Stanford Medicine

Welcome to Work Unleashed, BoxWorks edition. We're recapping and highlighting some of the conversations we had at our biggest event of the year, BoxWorks Digital. We heard from business and IT leaders shaping a new era of work, who shared best practices for enabling teams in a work-from-anywhere world.

Creative teaching protocols. Effective clinical therapies. Pioneering research. All things you’d expect from an organization like Stanford Medicine with a long, rich tradition of medical leadership. Now, Stanford Medicine is on the vanguard of the COVID-19 pandemic. When shelter-in-place orders were announced in California, some ongoing research missions were suspended and personnel were repurposed around fighting COVID-19. Research efforts stepped up to release one of the first FDA-approved COVID-19 test kits in the U.S., and Stanford Medicine now has over 300 personnel focused on solving the pandemic.

Research teams there are working tirelessly to develop coronavirus diagnostics, including one of the most accurate serology tests out there for detecting antibodies. They’re involved with many of the active vaccine trials underway today, as well as trials for other kinds of therapeutics to support patients. And the organization is working to make at-home and saliva-based testing kits possible for the greater population — an achievement that will mark a turning point in the ability for the U.S. to get the pandemic under control.

Stanford Medicine researchers are also applying informatics and data science to the global COVID-19 problem, including creating predictive models, helping health systems understand their own capacity, and providing all of that information to local, state, and national governments.

“It’s a pretty amazing array of projects,” says Michael Halaas, Deputy CIO and Associate Dean, Industry Relations and Digital Health, Stanford Health Care, “many of which have intense technology needs.” In a recent conversation with Box CIO Paul Chapman, Halaas walked us through Stanford Medicine’s deep involvement in the pandemic and how the organization’s IT strategy helps create a “path to yes” whenever possible.

“It’s fantastic to see the work you do be a part of something that’s mission-driven and changes people’s lives.” — Michael Halaas, Deputy CIO and Associate Dean, Industry Relations and Digital Health, Stanford Health Care

IT at Stanford: Enabling agile research and secure healthcare

The sheer number and range of projects happening at Stanford Medicine at any given time has always required the use of technology that’s both highly secure and utterly flexible. On the hands-on healthcare side of the organization, where people’s lives and personal privacy are at stake, technology must be high rigor, fault tolerant, and redundant — and it must adhere to extremely strict privacy regulations around personal information and healthcare data.

On the polar end of that spectrum is the domain of research, where flexibility and agility are paramount. Stanford Medicine intentionally scouts faculty who are “thinkers outside the box” and often highly technologically proficient. Indeed, many of the world’s greatest technologies got their start at Stanford University. 

“To be successful in all our approaches,” says Halaas, “our strategy is to listen to our faculty very carefully, and get to ‘yes’ almost no matter what it takes.” Stanford Medicine added Box to its technology stack many years ago in response to security issues teams were experiencing with their on-premises infrastructure. The pivot to Box came from having to act quickly to protect healthcare data in the cloud at scale. But over the years, Box has worked closely with Halaas’s IT team to engineer the specific security controls to meet Stanford’s needs — and still enable teams to work in a collaborative, agile way.

“One of the things about Box that’s great,” Halaal says, “is that you clearly have a deep understanding of these things and are building tools to help us manage them, which is very much critical.” Using Box as a cloud content management platform has created a solid foundation for all types of work at Stanford Medicine, and was also the right platform from which to launch remote collaboration efforts.

There’s no blueprint for business as unusual

This year has been acutely challenging for organizations and individuals of all kinds. But there have been innovation silver linings along the way. For instance, before the pandemic started, the Stanford Medicine IT team had been exploring ways to succeed in telehealth. There was a years-long strategic plan in place to get there, but thanks to the pandemic, the goal of functional telehealth was reached in just a few weeks.

“We are more adaptable than we think we are, both as people and as organizations,” reflects Halaas on the unbelievable pivot Stanford Medicine has executed this year. Moving forward, the organization will continue to stay hyper-focused on improving human health, and Halaal’s internal IT organization will continue to obsess over the right technology tools and partners to support an intensity of research, development, and hands-on human care. 

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