Health system IT teams aim to become more agile, business-centric

The IT teams for health systems are evolving as organizations mature in digital transformation and aim to become more agile in the future.

Financial constraints and labor shortages lingering from the pandemic have forced CIOs to become more strategic leaders of the organization as health systems look for new, tech-enabled solutions to deliver quality care. Three health system CIOs joined the "Becker's Digital Health and Health IT" podcast recently to talk about how their roles and teams will evolve.

Note: responses are lightly edited for clarity.

Question: How do you see your role and teams changing in the next three years?

Donna Roach. CIO of University of Utah Health (Salt Lake City): I have been blessed with an amazing team with what they do and give to the organization every day. However, there's a great opportunity in front of us to introduce more agile thinking or design thinking into how we do projects and initiatives. That's not just on my team; it's on the whole organization. I like to call it operating on two different speeds within our structure. My one operating mode is more traditional. We are going for simplicity, stability and effectiveness. You might use project management to standardize and achieve the right outcomes, and there's nothing wrong with that.

On the flip side, you have to have this other operating speed which I'm calling mode two, and that's innovation, flexibility and agility. That's where we start to introduce more agile thinking. You're really creating more proactive and predictive systems, and you're being innovative in mode two. You're looking at a customer and outcome-centric model and talking about the journey mapping of how the systems interact, and it becomes very exciting.

That gives me the ability to repurpose some of my team to focus on mode two and start thinking in a more agile way but doesn't minimize what we still need to have a very strong standard operating model of model one.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at Seattle Children's: Technology groups within health systems will continue to have to prove their business value. I look at my IT service in my health system, which is not for profit, but it's still a P and L (profit and loss) business. My services are just a big L within the P and L, and I don't generate revenue. I spend money, and that's a loss that has to come from clinical revenue. So it's difficult to decide between the spend on patient care or spend on technology tools.

Our roles as CIOs will evolve to become much more business centric. That's one of the key mantras I'm pushing to my teams: You have to engage the frontline clinical staff all the time in terms of what you are doing and what impact that is having.

We want more rounding and more communication from our team, and as we evolve, I see IT teams in healthcare systems remaining more remote. We as a healthcare system have learned from COVID-19 that we can run services remotely, and we will remain a hybrid workforce. We've closed some of our offices down. The technology group is now 20 percent hybrid, 80 percent work from home or remotely and 20 percent come to site if needed to speak to clinical staff.

You're going to see a lot of that evolution, which is going to help with talent acquisition.We've expanded where we can hire from, and we hire in Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Georgia, Florida and Texas now. I have colleagues in those locations, and we're expanding that out, which makes it a lot more flexible than requiring everyone to come to an office in a downtown location. I can see the whole hybrid workforce expanding for us while integrating more with the business and clinical needs of the health system.

Brian Doerr. Senior Vice President of IT and Security and Privacy Officer for Community Hospital Corp. (Plano, Texas): We need to find individuals and engage individuals who have a growth mindset. They're flexible, they're nimble, they're looking for and understanding change. That's both on the technologist side and the clinician side. What we need is people who will engage and collaborate, and not look at the box they live in today and think that's the box they will live in for the future. We're looking at creative ideas and bringing in people who have healthcare experience. We're also bringing in people who have no healthcare experience but may have experience in other industries that we could leverage in the healthcare space. We are big proponents of 'not invented here' is a great thing.

We're always looking for new ideas about how we can evolve our processes and technology and leverage the technology out there. We'll be investing in additional informatics specialists to be the connection between technology and clinicians and help optimize workflow that is critical to us. That's an area we'll continue to focus on and will be a big focus for us in the next decade.

Cybersecurity is another area where we'll be continuing to hire additional staff and add resources all the time to make sure everything we do starts with a security mindset as well.

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