No. 1 strategy to improve physician buy-in? Cayuga Health System's CIO says strong bonds & relationships

Brett Mello, CIO and assistant vice president at Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cayuga Health System, gives his best advice for motivating his teams and utilizing consumer products to adapt to new patient experience expectations.

Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length

Question: Can you share your best advice for motivating your teams?

Brett Mello: First, provide clear direction and the purpose and context behind it. Then, allow the room to determine the best pathway to a solution. Trust in their expertise, but let them know you are there to back them up. Doing this, however, includes holding them accountable. Your expectations mean nothing if there are no consequences, and accomplishment mean nothing without a challenge. Make sure they are trained and equipped to meet the challenges. This includes technical training, soft skills development, such as communication and planning, and the right software and hardware tools.

It's also important to recognize your team's contributions and value to the organization. Remember we are all human with a bigger world outside of work. That can involve time to celebrate, time with family and time for mourning. Let them know you support them in good times and bad. Work is not always the top priority.

Finally, have some fun with them. This is a serious business we are in with few breaks in demands and stress. Giving time to letting one's hair down and activities that encourage social interaction are crucial, not only to building and maintaining relationships but for reducing some of the pressure that builds over time. A little levity at the end of a meeting, a potluck, competition or occasionally something more substantial like a departmental golf outing are important to morale and engagement.

Q: How does your organization gain physician buy-in when it is implementing a new technology or solution?

BM: Relationships with physicians need to be developed before a new technology or process is considered. Invest in understanding their world and develop trust that you have their best interests at heart first. Spend time with them. Let them talk and listen carefully. Sometimes what they are saying is not what they really mean. Take Stephen Covey's rule to heart — seek first to understand, then be understood.

Next, engage them in the little things before moving to bigger ones. Let them wrestle with less complex challenges or ideas without a high level of clinical or financial pressure. Partnering on easy to implement, high value solutions helps build momentum and energy. This is very difficult to do after you've started a major initiative. Solicit their ideas and let them participate in guiding the direction of the solution. No one likes to be told this is simply how you will do things.

Finally, recognize their contributions in a way that is meaningful to them. This could be financial, in the form of a public announcement or a heartfelt and private handshake and thank you.

Q: What is the No. 1 thing you wish you knew before taking a leadership post at your organization?

BM: The culture. Understanding how things are done in any organization can make or break you. This takes time, conversation and, sometimes, an extraordinary amount of patience. Occasionally, you'll run into a culture that is very, very different than what you've experienced before and so requires you enter it with a very open mind. Once you understand it, you'll need to adapt to it before you can consider influencing any meaningful changes. If you are not considered a part of the team, you'll remain an outsider and too long outside is career limiting. This is a truth in any organization you engage in.

Q: In the past 12 months, how have you adapted to new patient experience expectations in the age of consumerism?

BM: Consumerism means enabling informed choices and better decision making. We are exploring new ways to engage patients long before an event brings them into our care. This means meeting them where they live like utilizing consumer products such as smartwatches and smartphones to proactively collect, trend and inform health-related decisions. It means providing easy access to patient information and virtual connections with clinicians — anytime, anywhere. It means equipping patients with the knowledge and awareness that enables them to drive their daily activities toward a more consistently healthy lifestyle. And when the day comes that they need us for more direct care, we'll be better informed as to how they got there and as a result, hopefully be able to provide a faster path to recovery.

To learn more about hospital and health system IT, as well as the key trends for CIOs, 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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