Better Together: Building Productive Working Relationships Between IT and Informatics Executives

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Scott Joslyn and Harris Stutman, MD, have been colleagues and friends for the past 25 years. "We've had a variety of different relationships over the years, with both direct and indirect reporting structures," says Dr. Stutman. "We're very comfortable with each other now."

So when Dr. Stutman became CMIO to Mr. Joslyn's CIO at MemorialCare Health System in Fountain Valley, Calif., in 2003, their history allowed them to enjoy a productive working relationship from the start.

"Because we've known each other for quite some time, there's lots of mutual respect," says Mr. Joslyn. "I know [Dr. Stutman's] experience both in this company and in his roles in the software and consulting worlds have given him a wealth of knowledge — he advises me and I know his advice is sound."

Building the team

It has only been recently that CMIOs have become a dominant force in hospitals' executive suites. According to HIMSS' annual leadership survey, about 22 percent of hospitals and health systems had a CMIO in 2012. That number rose to 40 percent in 2013 as population health initiatives and value-based care arrangements increasingly demanded the use of data analytics both in patient care and overall clinical strategy.

At Carolinas HealthCare System, based in Charlotte, N.C., a growing need for informatics leadership led to the hiring of CMIO Brent Lambert about three years ago and CNIO Nancy Olson in March 2014.

The new positions were created to have clinicians "help us make connections between medical needs and what technology is able to deliver," says Craig Richardville, senior vice president and CIO of Carolinas HealthCare. "These positions marked our investment to deliver on the promises of technology, to help us use technology to create value in care delivery."

Strengthening the team

At Carolinas HealthCare, Mr. Richardville has created a team approach in which all of the executives work together toward one goal — quality care for patients. The CMIO and CNIO work closely with the clinical team and have defined roles, just like the IT executives do, but also have a big-picture idea of how their efforts are supporting the overarching goal of improving the quality of care delivered throughout the system, he says.

"We're a team, first and foremost," he says. "We're working toward the same goal."

This team-based approach allowed the executive leadership to quickly incorporate the CMIO and make the best use of his talents and perspectives, and is poised to do the same with Ms. Olson.

"We have a well-defined executive leadership structure, and we know the patient always comes first," says Ms. Olson. "If you have that executive clarity about the system's vision and its strategic priorities, then you have the foundation needed to both work with [the CMIO] and the clinical team but also with the CIO and CTO to make the big decisions… That foundation is really what enables the executive team to work together."

At MemorialCare Health System, the reporting structures may be more clearly defined but the the trust and knowledge both Mr. Joslyn and Mr. Stutman have of each other's skills has allowed the division of labor between them to best reflect each man's strengths. Currently, Mr. Joslyn focuses on overseeing all IT operations, and Dr. Stutman, who reports to Mr. Joslyn, handles physician change management and informatics, including overseeing the system's progress toward and attestation to meaningful use objectives.

Both men see a clear division of labor and mutual trust as key to a productive relationship among IT and informatics executives, though neither are developed instantly. "It all starts with clarity about roles and responsibilities, though this is something that often evolves over time," says Mr. Joslyn. "You have to meld the strengths and weaknesses and preferences among the folks on your team as far as what they want and what they can do well, and then as that takes shape you need to define roles."

Dr. Stutman agrees these carefully selected but clearly defined roles have helped him and his colleagues work to the best of their abilities. "[Mr. Joslyn] has six direct reports, and the lines are clearly drawn," he says. Because responsibilities are based on expertise, Dr. Stutman and his colleagues know they can depend on each other for expert input while being able to focus on their strongest areas.

To Mr. Joslyn, creating such an environment is part of his responsibility as CIO. "It's my job to create that kind of collaborative environment where we all do work together by having clear roles and responsibilities, which in turn creates a strong sense of trust and mutual respect," he says.

More Articles on CIOs:

The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Penn State Hershey's Rod Dykehouse
3 CIO Strategies for IT Cost Management
Chad Eckes Joins Wake Forest Baptist as CIO

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