4 questions with Mount Sinai Health System CIO Kumar Chatani

Kumar Chatani, executive vice president and CIO of New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System, has gained a comprehensive view of the healthcare industry over the past 20 years.

Mr. Chatani began his health IT career in the 1990s, overseeing corporate IT for Syncor International Corp., a drug wholesaler. He left the pharmaceutical industry in the early 2000s to join Cigna Healthcare of California as regional vice president for IT. After a three-year stint at Cigna, he entered his first position as a hospital CIO, a position he held on an interim basis at Albuquerque, N.M.-based Lovelace Health System.

Today, Mr. Chatani manages a budget of roughly $300 million and oversees almost 1,000 employees and contractors as a C-suite executive at Mount Sinai. He joined Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2011, just two years before it merged with Continuum Health Partners, creating Mount Sinai Health System — one of the largest private health systems in New York City.

"I've now been here at Mount Sinai for the last six years," he says. "It's been a really exciting time for me in healthcare."

Becker's Hospital Review caught up with Mr. Chatani to discuss how the health system's IT priorities have changed since 2011 and how the Mount Sinai-Continuum merger of 2013 continues to affect his day-to-day responsibilities.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: How did you transition your career focus to health IT?

Kumar Chatani: I've been doing healthcare IT for over 20 years, all the way from pharmaceuticals to payers to providers. I used to be a management consultant, and as a result of that, I got exposed to healthcare. I was really intrigued by all the possibilities in the industry. I went on to work at Syncor International, a pharmaceutical company in Los Angeles that was acquired by Cardinal Health. After that I moved on to Cigna Healthcare, where I was exposed to the insurance business, and I also worked with [Oakland, Calif.-based] Kaiser Permanente, where I was CIO for the northwest region in Portland, Ore.

Q: Given your expansive healthcare background, what most surprised you about the hospital CIO role?

KC: I've been around for a long time, but when I came to Mount Sinai I was so impressed with the sheer intellect of the research faculty. They're working on the kind of things we know will impact and benefit society for years to come. As I live and breathe with these people, and help them work on their research, I've realized what a difference IT makes in their work. I've also seen how the IT team has grown. Since I've started at Mount Sinai, my team has doubled in size, from 400 people to over 1,000 employees and contractors. We're also doing a few things we didn't do five years ago, like population health, mobile health and an increased focus on cybersecurity.

Q: What IT tasks have taken up the majority of your time during the past month?

KC: A lot of my time is spent on 2017 capital projects. We had over $125 million in capital projects this year. I also do a lot of planning at my level, so I'm already in the planning stage for 2018. I'm preparing the team at Mount Sinai for what we will need in 2018, and I'm working with our business partners, talking to them about their future needs and where I see us going. Relationship management with our business partners and the skills that go with it have become increasingly important to deliver the value of IT in a complex healthcare setting. That's one area I encourage my team to focus on. We don't want to forget how to facilitate those bonds in the age of technology.

Q: Looking toward the next year, what are some of your IT goals for Mount Sinai?

KC: Mount Sinai Medical Center merged with Continuum Health Partners in 2013, and I have a five-year plan to integrate the hospitals and medical school in terms of IT. I want it to be seamless, so I spend a lot of time preparing common systems. My focus in 2018 will be to continue to integrate all of our medical records, lab systems and so on, so all the hospitals have the same technology foundation. The investment is over half a billion dollars, and we are steadily making progress in this sphere.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai also launched a five-year strategic plan this year, so I'll be helping the school and its researchers implement associated IT projects. I haven't received specific project requests from researchers yet — we're still in the very early stages — but I see how the different departments, oncology, cardiology and so on, require specific systems for their research. I see us heading in a direction where we need to hire people with experience in machine learning, big data analytics and natural language processing. We have already been studying these advanced technologies, but I see us focusing on them even more in the next year.

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