5 questions with UC San Diego Health's new CIO Dr. Christopher Longhurst

In early February, UC San Diego Health appointed Christopher Longhurst, MD, as the system's new CIO. He joined the health system from Stanford (Calif.) Children's Health, where he had been serving since 2004, and as CMIO since 2009.

Dr. Longhurst took some time to speak with Becker's Hospital Review about his goals for his first year in this new position.

Editor's note: Interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are your goals for your first year with UC San Diego?

Dr. Christopher Longhurst: What is most important is to support the strategic and operational mission of the health system. I could give you three strategic priorities, in no particular order.

One is that we currently have a new hospital wing, the JacobsMedicalCenter, under construction that will serve several hundred new inpatients in La Jolla. Jacobs will be opening with some new tech to make it a shining star and highlight of our outreach efforts. There's a lot at stake from an information services standpoint in making sure this billion dollar building opens successfully.

Second, we're in the midst of unprecedented growth through affiliations and joint ventures, and every new affiliation with hospitals and medical group, clinically integrated network or other type of joint venture, has an important IT component.

Third is optimization of our existing solutions. This is a challenge industry-wide. Health systems have IT solutions in place, which can often be leveraged for more value than they currently are, and this gets into adoption and maximum value.

Q: What are the biggest healthcare needs in Southern California, and how are you leveraging IT to address those?

CL: Around local growth and hospital affiliations, we have announced partnerships with El Centro (Calif.) RegionalMedicalCenter, and we're looking to extend our EMR system to UC Irvine Medical Center [in Orange, Calif.]. In that topic of growth, it is an important component of our strategy.

Q: You joined UC San Diego from Stanford Children's. How are you using your prior experience in your new role?

CL: It's less about specific experiences at Stanford because many health systems are experiencing the same challenges across the U.S. What's more interesting is that I made the transition from role of CMIO and vice president of analytics and informatics to a role as CIO. That transition brings a new set of challenges and responsibilities. In addition to really ensuring that our clinical system are optimally configured and utilized, I also now have responsibility for our business systems, technology and infrastructure as well.

Q: Increasingly we hear about physicians moving into executive roles. How will your background as a physician come into play in your CIO duties?

CL: The hospital's primary mission is to serve patients. Additionally as an academic medical center, we educate the next generation of physicians and scientists and discover new knowledge. Our IT systems support all three of these missions: clinical care, education and research. I hope that my background as a practicing academic physician brings a unique perspective to the executive team.

Q: Any last thoughts?

CL: It's an extraordinarily exciting time in health IT. Many people agree that the future of healthcare delivery is going to be highly dependent on these information systems. At the same time, we see a lot of challenges around cybersecurity. To accomplish those three strategic objectives, it's really critical we have the right infrastructure in place. My No. 1 infrastructure priority is cybersecurity.

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How CIOs can become CEOs: Thoughts from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff 

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