CIOs are 'healthcare leaders first': How 10 IT execs are confronting economic challenges

Economic uncertainty is giving healthcare executives across the country a headache.

CIOs are not immune from these challenges as inflation, workforce challenges and difficulty with vendors seep into the IT room.

Becker's reached out to 10 hospital and health system CIOs to learn how they are handling the current economic situation.


Edward Lee, MD. CIO of Permanente Medical Group (Oakland, Calif.): To effectively mitigate the risks of economic uncertainty, it's important to have a comprehensive understanding of what others are doing in the marketplace, evaluate your organization's strengths, and identify significant areas of opportunity. This information should be examined in the context of your organization's core values. Putting these pieces together allow for strategic prioritization and focused investments that can help you weather the turbulence of the present and prepare you to thrive in the future.

Eric Jimenez. CIO of Artesia (N.M.) General Hospital: We're no strangers to economic uncertainty. I work in a hospital situated in rural America, where we face economic instability every day. We have previously dealt with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and have learned to navigate through it. We have identified important projects that need to be completed despite financial setbacks. These projects should prioritize patient care and improve the efficiency of the organization. By investing in and implementing the right technology, we help our organization reduce costs. We can use robotic process automation as an example. Our IT department has begun exploring the integration of RPA technology to streamline workflow processes and ultimately reduce costs. It's important to note that we are not implementing RPA to replace our current team but rather to enhance their efficiency to achieve more with fewer resources. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me that you must closely evaluate the costs associated with our IT operations. We need to discover additional methods to reduce our nonessential expenses. It's crucial to think outside the box and explore alternative funding solutions. During these challenging times of COVID-19, we have found some relief by taking advantage of various grants and programs provided by the government to support our IT initiatives. It's been a massive help in offsetting the cost and allowing us to continue to deliver top-notch services to our end users.

Jim Feen. Chief Digital and Information Officer of Southcoast Health (New Bedford, Mass.): There's a multipronged approach that we're taking. One practice we have never taken our eye off the ball with is how we can make things more efficient in our technology stack. It is a commitment to keeping a constant eye on that ball. The current state has put an even greater burden on healthcare operations than ever before. My role is much more integrated operationally than ever, which really started during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What we are doing to handle that is looking at the key financial levers that are within our control that can return greater yield, greater margin and greater care by doing certain things better. We have defined what those levers are. Whether it's referral management, input or quality improvements, it puts a lot of those fundamentals back into the crosshairs as performance improvement initiatives and financial journey performances.

The organization is really committed to a strategy to getting back and looking at a lot of the fundamentals to make sure that we're providing the highest-quality care that we can for our community, doing as much of that care as we can be relied upon, and making sure that we're capturing all the clinically appropriate volume to the greatest extent we can. That's mission No. 1.

Lee Carmen. CIO of University of Iowa Health Care (Iowa City): Healthcare IT leaders have had to balance operational expense management with innovative investments in new and emerging technologies for many years. Current economic pressures and uncertainties are requiring us to look more aggressively at current expenses and validate the business value for ongoing legacy system investments.

Prioritization of work has become more critical as we need to confirm that those projects with the greatest potential benefit to the organization are being resourced to be completed as quickly as possible. We are also putting new focus on training our workforce to make sure they are using the tools and technology we have deployed to maximize efficiency and minimize staff burnout to avoid expensive staff turnover.

Linda Stevenson. CIO of Fisher-Titus Medical Center (Norwalk, Ohio): As all organizations are, we are carefully watching our costs and evaluating projects to ensure that our focus is on initiatives that bring value to the organization. Technology can both improve the organization's ability to increase revenue or decrease costs but can add overhead as well. This is a careful balancing act. Fisher-Titus continues to explore ways that we can take advantage of new technologies to attract patients and make it convenient for them to receive care right here in their community. We are also investigating any kind of artificial intelligence or automation that will improve productivity for caregivers and administrative areas.  

Finally, I work closely with vendors to find creative ways to contract for solutions and services, which may allow us to speed up the delivery of innovation at a reduced cost to Fisher-Titus. For us, technology has become the foundation for the work we do and the improvements we need to be successful.

Onyeka Nchege. Senior Vice President and CIO of Novant Health (Charlotte, N.C.): Uncertainty has been the theme of the past three years, and every health system in the nation is facing economic unknowns and pressures. Our teams across the Novant Health system are constantly evaluating how we can be the best stewards of the resources available to us.

Just as we had scalable solutions in place prior to the pandemic that allowed us to stand up virtual care overnight and provide care without interruption, we have worked together to align key priorities and initiatives across the organization to face these new challenges. We are analyzing systems, streamlining processes and exploring innovative care delivery models. While there may be more challenges ahead, our team members are engaged in thinking outside the box so that we may continue providing remarkable care to the communities we serve.

Saad Chaudhry. CIO and Chief Digital Officer of Luminis Health (Parole, Md.): The economic climate is leaning toward uncertainty for healthcare at large as COVID-era emergency measures are rolled back across the states. And IT departments at provider organizations are not immune from these concerns. If anything, there is an added pressure for CIOs to not just reduce expenses but also play a part in improving the financial health of the organization.

While this is generally a good thing — CIOs having a seat at the table and being healthcare leaders first — this is also causing a bit of heartburn since nearly all avenues of automation, augmentation and general improvement in the operational realm require technology — technology that has a cost in both budgetary expense, where dollars are already tight, and IT team bandwidth, where lean departments are already stretched too thin.

Scott Arnold. CIO and Chief Innovation Officer of Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: Our health system remains on high alert with regard to the economy. While we are carefully managing expenses, we are still advancing on strategic imperatives, growth and innovation for the system. Our investments in technology are foundational to these priorities and remain part of our planned outlay. We are careful to invest what is needed "just in time" and focus on projects that are either accretive or have benefits that neutralize the cost of investment.  

Thomas Marlow. CIO of Southwestern Health Resources (Farmers Branch, Texas): At Southwestern Health Resources, in particular, we are actively reviewing our current initiatives to determine which should be held or possibly eliminated, evaluating the need for open new-hire positions, eliminating underutilized or duplicative technology, and accelerating our efforts to reduce waste through automation.

Tom Barnett. Chief Information and Digital Officer of Baptist Memorial Health Care (Memphis, Tenn.): With the continued uncertainty in the economy and the inflationary pressures we are all facing, our technology division is focusing on keeping the core technical foundation updated and appropriately maintained. We have also paused certain discretionary projects while tuning our project approval process to focus primarily on those initiatives that either directly support patient safety and regulatory requirements or those that can directly impact revenue or costs.

As always, we continually benchmark our IT division's performance against our peers and the broader healthcare industry to look for any additional opportunities where we can improve. Having said that, we are still building for the future and looking to further leverage the targeted application of digital, automation and machine learning technologies where it makes strategic sense to achieve further operational efficiencies.


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