Denise Zabawski, chief information officer for Nationwide Children's Hospital, leads a staff of nearly 300 IT professionals, serving more than 16,000 users, many of them involved in patient care and research.

A third of Nationwide Children's Hospital staff focuses on electronic health records, from doctors' orders, diagnoses and prescriptions to cost recovery.

Tens of thousands more users are involved through telemedicine as parents of patients call in with problems and remote pediatricians upload descriptions of symptoms, X-rays and CAT scans.

“One of the companies we're working with is focusing on artificial intelligence that helps you contact patients on a regular basis, applications where you can do call-ahead waiting for urgent care, and other things that make providing patient care better for the patient and family. How do you make it easier for them to work at the healthcare system? We're not live on that yet, but we're in conversation with some of those vendors,” Denise Zabawski says.

“It's about moving components of healthcare to the digital arena, where it makes sense. If you just have a question for your doctor, you should be able to interact with that doctor without coming in for a visit,” she adds.

“When a family has to travel a really long distance for a 15-minute appointment, are there ways to do that digitally, whether it's telemedicine or some other solution? That's how we'll move the non-critical, non-emergent things to more of a digital environment, which is also what the newer generations are looking for. How can I do it on my phone? Can I do it by internet and not have to make a visit? If I am going to make a visit, we need to make sure I can make it as efficient as possible.”

That transformation of medicine provides avenues for wider geographic service. But it's not the only challenge for healthcare technology support in a field where every nurse, doctor, pharmacist, technician and office support staffer is linked by computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones.

In a hospital that has driven most processes online since 2006, the massive amount of data put a premium on the need for specialists in both data analytics and cyber security for the network perimeter, both hot fields where recruitment takes more time, Zabawski says.

Still, she's optimistic about the availability of IT talent in the Columbus Region. “It's definitely a robust flow of people coming into the Region or graduating from local universities, and the big employers (are) working with the local universities to make sure the grads come out with skill sets that match the hot jobs right now,” she says.

Beyond matching skill sets with jobs, biomedical, pharmaceutical and surgical technologies continue to develop, such as computerized drug compounding machines and new heart monitors.

“There's a lot of focus in developing entrepreneurs locally and all that they're trying to do to develop the new technology that's coming out of our region. It's all new, a lot of it, but there's some tremendous potential in some of these small service companies,” Zabawski says.

In Central Ohio's IT ecosystem, the technology operations of Nationwide Children's are both significant and complex. Unlike OhioHealth, OSU hospitals and Mount Carmel Health with their networks of affiliate offices, many referring pediatricians are not employed by the hospital itself.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure there are thriving pediatricians in all the regions, and we really want to keep the private pediatricians alive and well and have healthy practices,” she says.