10 career lessons from CIOs, for CIOs

Though the work can be challenging, healthcare CIOs are all in it together. Sharing tips and lessons learned can be an effective way to navigate issues or just learn of a new way of approaching problems. Here are some nuggets of wisdom and advice CIOs have shared with us at Becker's Hospital Review.

Frank DiSanzo, CIO New Brunswick, N.J.-based St. Peter's Healthcare System: Most IT projects are, in fact, not IT projects: They're clinical transformation projects in which IT plays an important but not primary role. Be transparent, work with your clinicians and, where possible, let them call the shots.

Matthew Chambers, CIO of Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health: The [rule for success] that's most important to me is to build a very high-performing team, and the easiest way to do that is to hire people who are smarter than you…One of the best compliments I've received from my organization is, "Matt, you've built a really good team and your team is performing well." It's easy to be a smart person, but it is much harder to enable an entire team to function effectively. It takes a willingness to be hard on yourself to acknowledge both your personal strengths and shortcomings, and then be supportive of team members who are stronger than you in their area of expertise.

Joy Grosser, vice president and CIO of West Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health: This is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times that we will take a misstep thinking that we were going in the right direction when we weren't. But because it's a marathon you can get back on track pretty quickly. The way you would train for that marathon and ensure success is to make sure you're surrounding yourself with the right team. I'm blessed to be a CIO, but I'm more blessed that I have incredible teams within my own division, with my peers across the system and within our executive team. They all understand that no one pillar of healthcare takes care of everything — they all need to work together.

Aaron Miri, CIO of Walnut Hill Medical Center in Dallas: "Participate in everything you can. Participate with your staff at the front line; talk with them. Participate in leadership discussions. Participate in legislation. Be part of advocacy…Advocacy on the Hill in Washington is so important because not only do we need to be change agents and participate locally at our own institution, we must participate in the way our country is developing regulation and legislation because our kids are counting on us doing this right."

Joan Hicks, CIO of University of Alabama Birmingham Health System: Develop, obtain buy-in and put into practice IT principles that you use for decision-making. Prior to any system decisions being made, the proposed solutions are validated against the Health System IT Principles. Document the 'why' you are doing what you are doing, what problem you are trying to solve and how you will go forward. If I follow this formula, I don't second-guess decisions.

John Kenagy, PhD, senior vice president and CIO of Portland, Ore.-based Legacy Health: There are two things a good CIO needs to be — a financial manager and a marketing officer for what IT does. Good marketing is understanding what people's needs are. When people hear "marketing," they think advertising, and it's really developing a product and placing it in front of people who want it. If they don't know they want it yet, listen and talk and promote it until they can't live without it. And then transparent, open financial management. We have a very large budget that is spent on complex things. [The rest of the organization] has to have the perspective of, 'I trust you, you have my back.' That is make-or-break for a CIO.

Eric Carey, CIO of Ridgewood, N.J.-based Valley Health System: One lesson is the importance of learning how to embrace new technology and generational challenges in how technology is used. We're going through this right now with millennials, such as the change from email and voicemail to texting and Facebook, or YouTube versus a printed manual. You have tried and true mechanisms for training people and communicating that worked for the past 10 years, but the new generation doesn't work that way. The lesson we keep trying to teach our team is you have to look at the new people and the new technology and not hold too tight to what you've had all these years…You can't stay status quo.

Doris Peek, PhD, senior vice president and CIO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Broward Health: Unwavering focus on operational performance requires a collaborative and holistic approach. To use a cliché, people, process and technology must be aligned. Innovation in managing analytics and patient engagement will help us to ride the current wave. Innovation takes guts and is not for the faint-hearted.

Thomas Bres, senior vice president, chief administrative officer and CIO of Lansing, Mich.-based Sparrow Health System: The first thing I think is important to all CIOs is to have that customer service mentality. We have to think of physicians, patients, nurses and all caregivers as internal customers and people we want to ensure are always satisfied with the value they're getting from IT. If you think about departments as customers and focus on the value delivered, that angle goes a long way to IT being successful.

Luis Taveras, PhD, senior vice president and CIO of West Orange, N.J.-based Barnabas Health: The thing that I do that has worked well for me is that by 7:30 a.m., I know everything that is going on throughout the organization from an IT perspective. I can run into any executive in any part of our organization and not be surprised by them saying a system or application is down. I know that well before they do.

More articles on health IT:

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