Life of a healthcare CIO: Allina Health's Susan Heichert

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Becker's Hospital Review's "Life of a Healthcare CIO" series features leading hospital and health system CIOs from across the country who are sharing their experiences, best practices and challenges.

To recommend a CIO to be featured in this series, please contact Akanksha Jayanthi (

An interview with Susan Heichert, senior vice president and CIO of Minneapolis-based Allina Health.

Note: Interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What have been some of the highs and lows of health IT this year?

susan heichertSusan Heichert: A high has been the way health IT is becoming patient-focused and focused on the patient experience. Some of the OpenNotes work that we're seeing has supported that direction [where physicians share their notes with patients]. I would also say a high is the work that has been put toward the patient experience and making sure that technology is actually adding some value to their experience. Along those lines, there has been more work in the device integration space, a little bit on the Internet of Things, wearables and incorporating more information from devices into either the EHR or the patient record. A high is that we're starting to see more payment for telehealth, that that's being recognized as a technology that is an acceptable way to deliver patient care and is beneficial to patients.

For the lows, I'd say security breaches, obviously, as there are more and more of those, and lack of advancement on a national patient identifier so that we can better exchange information. It seems like we're not making much progress there, but we're trying. Another low is the amount of time spent on talking about the supposed interoperability wars between vendors and information blocking and not enough about what's actually being done to improve information exchange. Can't we just get on with it? I think vendors are trying to improve our ability to exchange information, and there just seems like a lot of time and talk and press dedicated to talking more about unwillingness to exchange and less about the good things that are happening.

Q: What are some initiatives you're working on right now?

SH: We are working on meaningful use, of course.We're working on interoperability and trying to get more of that happening for our patients. We are working on expanding our telehealth services, and we are working on better tools for patients to interact with us and for us to provide a better experience for our patients. We're also working on our business intelligence/analytics front, again trying to continue to better know and understand our patients and better close the gaps in care that we see from patients having to deal with a number of different entities.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you currently face?

SH: Under each of those things we'reworking on there are big challenges. But one of our biggest challenges is speed. That relates to how we're an industry in transformation. It's not going to be okay to keep going at the speed we've been going at for the last 25 years. We're going to need to embrace our technology tools at a faster rate, and that includes making sure we're marrying together the operational changes and the technological changes. You can't have technology pushing operations too fast, and operations has a lot of different things they want technology to do. We need to make sure from a technology side we're keeping up with that.

I think the big challenge is handling everything that's coming up and continuing to push forward, because there's consumer demand on top of the industry's transformation demand. We have to make sure all those things line up and we keep making forward progress.

Q: What is one lesson you've learned you'd like to share with other CIOs?

SH: A lesson would be to keep the reason we're doing this at the forefront of all the decisions you make and all the efforts you undertake, that reason being that we're here to improve healthcare, improve the experience of our patients and improve the quality of what we deliver. As long as you keep that at the forefront of all that you're doing and every decision you're making, then you're going to go in the right direction.

More articles on CIOs:

Performance is the top priority for 53% of healthcare CIOs: 9 insights into CIO perspective
Visibility of women CIOs can help close the tech gender gap
5 insights on CIO perspective from McKesson CIO Kathy McElligott

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