Michael Ricci remembers that in February 2022, leaders at Massachusetts General Brigham (MGB) wanted to make available and track the distribution of COVID-19 antigen rapid self-test kits to over ninety thousand people across the healthcare system. MGB needed a solution that was fast, trackable, and inclusive, knowing that not all recipients had access to technology. And with the ongoing pandemic, they had to prevent any issues with cross-contamination when individuals picked up their kits.
Ricci and his team of developers were asked to find a solution. They quickly built a new system that automatically distributed smart QR codes to all employees. Those employees were then able to use devices at distribution centers across the system’s numerous locations to scan their unique codes into a web portal and receive their kits while managers monitored progress via real-time dashboards. The touchless system went live in a week (from concept through design, build, and testing) and helped MGB successfully deliver more than 45,000 thousand kits to participating recipients.
Ricci serves as chief information officer and vice president of information services at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. The Boston-based specialty hospital houses the world’s largest research center for ophthalmology, otolaryngology, and head and neck services. Since joining the organization full-time in 2012, Ricci has been focused on doing all he can to deliver cutting-edge IT solutions to increase efficiencies and improve patient outcomes. MBG acquired Massachusetts Eye and Ear in 2018, giving Ricci the opportunity to bring impact to a world-renowned health system.
A veteran leader with over thirty years of experience, Michael Ricci is demonstrating the true power of technology in the healthcare space, and each victory brings another assignment. “Leaders see what can happen when we think differently and push the limits, and then they start bringing new business problems for my team to solve,” he says.
The antigen test kit program led to a pilot project for eyewash stations. Ricci is building another portal to replace an outdated pencil-and-paper process with a digital dashboard. Clinicians will use their handheld digital device to scan one of two QR codes at each eyewash station, which will indicate pass or fail information. Upon failure, the portal will automatically generate maintenance requests as needed, and store the history to the cloud for compliance reporting.
No one who’s met Ricci is surprised that he’s finding creative ways to harness the power of technology—he’s been doing so since an early age. Ricci began working in a hospital’s IT department at age fifteen. The next year, he and a partner started his first corporation, Micro Systems Unlimited, Inc. The entrepreneur then launched and operated SaberTech Systems, Inc., a consulting company providing full IT services to a variety of industries. The company specialized in desktops, servers, building networks, and creating electronic database systems to solve unique customer business problems. Before long, Partners Health Care, the state’s largest employer, became a key client, and SaberTech was the only company authorized to deploy their electronic medical records (EMR) system across their ambulatory practices.
Just before Ricci stepped into his role with Massachusetts Eye and Ear, the hospital had suffered a data security breach and was placed under a corrective action plan. He came in to right the ship, take over IT, lead health information management, and manage all aspects of a three-year audit with Price Waterhouse Coopers.
During the process, Ricci analyzed operations, formulated a plan, developed solutions, and put processes in place to address a variety of needs. When the audit finished with no additional findings, he was free to further enhance his tech program.
He improved the support center customer service model by replacing call operators with a rotation system that splits each technician’s time between answering phones and working in the field. “Closer relationships between support people and end users helps everyone on my team better understand workflows and how to really solve problems,” Ricci says. In addition, users have their issues resolved faster. First-call resolutions went from 20 to 70 percent as employees started to receive immediate solutions from colleagues they knew. Additionally, Ricci created a new enterprise data architecture team to prioritize software development and business intelligence.
These solutions, combined, help protect patients and improve care. Michael Ricci and the tech pros at Massachusetts Eye and Ear created their own internal tool called Enlighten MD, a browser-based solution that “bolts on” to an EMR system to manage videos and provide other additional features. The program whose IT was developed alongside nurses and physicians is now available to other health systems. “We’re using our internal innovation to drive revenue and improve patient care,” Ricci says.
The innovations don’t stop. Today, the team is also working with pediatricians and engineers to create an accessory that can turn a smartphone into an otoscope to take a picture of a child’s ear drum. The device then performs a machine-learning analysis to detect ear infections in less than a second. Human doctors using standard otoscopes are around 50 to 60 percent accurate in their diagnosis; this system is over 92 percent accurate.
There are gains to be made on the operations side as well. When it comes to scheduling ORs—the most expensive real estate in any hospital—machine learning models can predict how long a surgeon will need for a case based on many factors, including the patient, which staff members are involved, the day of the week, and the time of day. The process saves money, reduces physician burnout, and improves the patient experience. This internally developed solution is currently being optimized at Massachusetts Eye and Ear today.
One of Michael Ricci’s biggest challenges lies in prioritizing his work, as there is a seemingly endless number of problems he could attack. What has him most excited? “The expansion of AI and machine learning, and what data can do in research and across the continuum of care,” he answers. His organization has among the world’s largest ophthalmic image archives. By applying predictive analytics, care providers will soon be able to anticipate whether patients will develop disease. That means they’ll provide better care for the patient before a problem even emerges. “That’s the power of technology,” Ricci says. “What an exciting time to be alive!”