CMIO origin stories: The path 9 physicians took to become CMIO

Nine chief medical information officers across the country share their background and experiences that led them to their CMIO positions today.

Charles Sawyer, MD, CMIO at Mission Health System (Asheville, N.C.): My background prior to informatics was in clinical operations, running physician departments, etc. However, our EMR teams needed physicians who understood work flows and could marry them up with the functionality of electronic systems. Rather than focus on new functionalities and tools in new software systems, my CMIO focus has been on meeting the needs of practicing clinicians who are just trying to provide excellent care for patients and get through their day. What I particularly enjoy today is developing elegant and clever solutions within electronic systems to solve clinical care and documentation problems.

To read the full interview, click here.

David Danhauer, MD, CMIO at Owensboro Medical Health System (Owensboro, Ky.): After extensive interest in computer technology, I integrated that technology in the billing side of my private practice. With the advent of EMRs, I worked closely with our hospital system to leverage their EMR into my practice, allowing seamless continuity of care for my patients. As the hospital began to move to a new enterprise EMR, I agreed to help and transitioned to a part-time physician champion. Shortly into the process, the system recognized the need for a full-time CMIO and I moved to that role, full time, six years ago. 

To read the full interview, click here. 

Mark Weisman, MD, CMIO at Peninsula Regional Medical Center (Salisbury, Md.): The first moment I saw our "time of day for chart closure" report, I knew we had a problem and I felt compelled to help. This report showed the time of night our primary care providers were closing their charts, and over 50 percent of them were doing some chart work after 8 p.m. I felt reasonably comfortable in the EHR and thought I could help our struggling providers.

Along with a team of trainers from IT, project managers, adult education specialists, other physicians and some leadership support, we set off to create the "Home for Dinner" program with the goal of achieving just what the name says. We identified best practices, educated providers on basic and advanced EHR functionality, looked for opportunities to improve our version of the EHR, identified unwanted alerts and completely revamped our provider onboarding and continuing education programs. I loved making a difference in the lives of my friends and colleagues and thought I could have a bigger impact on healthcare from a CMIO position than I could as a full-time clinician. I took on extra training through our EHR vendor and took some online classes as well.

To read the full interview, click here. 

C.T. Lin, MD, CMIO at UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.): I became a CMIO by being the 'chief complainer' in 1998. I had written a seven-page detailed critique of the lousy computer systems in place at University of Colorado Hospital at that time, and a week later was invited by the CIO to meet and discuss a possible "physician liaison role with IT." I was offered a 0.1 [full time equivalent] position, and they told me it was because 'really, beyond a couple meetings a week, we don't see much need for your help. All we need you to do is to explain to the physicians all the great things we are already doing for them.'

One of my mentors explained to me that this 0.1 FTE was my 'nose of the camel' — one of those opportunities to insert myself into healthcare IT operations in a time when physician input was not really considered. Over time, I was able to grow this role into 85 percent of my job, and to have a team of 30 physician informaticists working with me to improve the EHR and intelligent flow of information throughout our organization.

I was trained in general internal medicine and came into this job in 1997, more than 20 years ago, and grew into the role even before there was such a thing as a CMIO, so I've helped develop what a CMIO is at our organization.

To read the full interview, click here.

Diane Hunt, MD, CMIO at Deaconness Health System (Evansville, Ind.): I'm a family practitioner by trade and kind of fell into the clinical informatics side of medicine by accident. When I graduated from residency, the organization I joined was looking for physicians willing to go live on their first ambulatory EHR, and since I was just starting a practice, it seemed optimal for me to be the guinea pig for the organization. Unfortunately, that first implementation was a disaster, and I knew that we needed to have more physician involvement to make transitioning to the electronic record a success for our providers.

The experience led me to initiate a conversation with our CEO about the need for a physician champion and my eventual transition to that role. Over time, I felt that I needed to get some formal training to back up those initiatives I was leading for our organization. I went back to school and got a master's degree in medical informatics, and eventually I was able to get my board certification in clinical informatics, as well. That physician champion role transitioned to a medical director role and eventually the move to the CMIO role I am in at this time.

To read the full interview, click here. 

Lee Milligan, MD, CMIO at Asante (Medford, Ore.): After practicing emergency medicine for nine years, I went back to college to pursue computer science. My wife was like, "honey, what the heck are you doing?" but she ultimately fully supported my efforts. I became a credentialed trainer and then a physician builder in our instance of the EHR. I then built production-ready EHR pieces, such as order sets, [best practice alerts] and reports with print groups, for two years. This led to a deep understanding of EHR workflow analysis, training, design, build and change management.

I also became certified in the [Oregon Health & Science University] 10x10 course, Introduction to BioMedical Informatics, taught by Bill Hersh. I then pursued board certification in clinical informatics, becoming board-certified in 2018. At the same time, I was asked to serve on several governing boards: our health system board, medical group board and ACO board. The combination of high-level strategic planning experience on boards and the granular EHR build made for a powerful combination in meetings.

To read the full interview, click here. 

Michael Olgren, MD, CMIO at Mercy Health (Grand Rapids, Mich.): I have always enjoyed using technology. As an emergency physician in 2003, I read the user manuals to train myself for our move from paper to an EMR. I prepared for my move into the CMIO role by obtaining a master's degree in medical informatics and then becoming board certified in the field.

To read the full interview, click here

Marvin Harper, MD, CMIO at Boston Children's Hospital: By being an involved clinician seeking to improve the provider experience and having a strong desire to access the data gathered in the course of care in order to develop and improve the quality of care we deliver.

My background is clinical, and I remain clinically active working in our emergency department. Over time, I have additionally sought training in epidemiology, business and computer science.

To read the full interview, click here. 

Louis Capponi, MD, CMIO at Sisters of Leavenworth Health System (Broomfield, Colo.): As an internist, I suppose I gravitate toward complex problem solving, and there are few endeavors more complex than healthcare. When I walked into clinical practice 24 years ago, I saw huge opportunities for improvement and knew that technology could play a role. However, as I got into it I realized that the exciting part wasn't the technology, it was the complexity of leading people and organizations through change. 

To read the full interview, click here. 

To learn more about clinical informatics and health IT, register for the Becker's Hospital Review 2nd Annual Health IT + Clinical Leadership Conference May 2-4, 2019 in Chicago. Click here to learn more and register.

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