Stanford Health Care CMIO Dr. Christopher Sharp on how iterative innovation can improve healthcare

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Christopher Sharp, MD, chief medical information officer of Stanford (Calif.) Health Care, knows how technology has changed and the health IT challenges organizations face today.

Since 2002,  Dr. Sharp has worked at Stanford, where he is an assistant clinical professor of medicine. He served as associate CMIO before becoming CMIO in 2013.

He earned his medical degree from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and completed his residency at Stanford. He has practiced internal medicine for more than 20 years.

Here, Dr. Sharp offers advice for aspiring CMIOs and discusses how iterative innovation can improve healthcare.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What is your No. 1 priority as CMIO? How do you ensure your success?

Dr. Christopher Sharp: My No. 1 priority is around clinician wellness. I’ve work[ed] to make sure whatever we do is supporting clinicians and their ability to engage and embrace patient care so that the technology does not come between them and their patients but enables and enhances that relationship. We need to carve away the pieces that have gotten in between doctors and their patients and gotten in between clinicians and giving care. There are inefficiencies. There are inaccuracies. There is overhead that we absolutely need to carve away.

We get there by enhancing elements that add value, those things that really inform the care delivery, those elements that help the patients and doctors understand [each other’s] care [perspectives] better. Whether it’s where we bring doctors and patients together better; whether it’s where we summarize data and clean the data and make the data available, ensure the interoperability to present the data back so everybody gets a full picture of [care], including the clinician and the patient; or whether we start to carve out overhead that EHRs and other health IT have put into the care delivery — these are the things I spend a lot of time thinking about because I think it is important to our healthcare delivery system locally and nationally.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring CMIOs?

CS: The role of the CMIO has so much to do with system leadership. I would say as a CMIO or an aspiring CMIO, don’t get too hung up on the technology and make sure you always look for the outcomes you want to drive through the technology rather than just the technology itself. It’s easy to get into a shiny- object way of thinking because there are so many extraordinary capabilities that start to come your way. Being problem-focused and thinking about the outcomes that matter in a clinical context will always be important to a healthcare delivery organization or even to the industry itself.

Q: What types of innovation do we need to improve the healthcare system?

CS: Even more than disruptive innovation, we need iterative innovation. I think across the [care] continuum, each of us can be responsible for building innovations that improve care interactions, care delivery and health. I’ve been struck by how many times utilizing relatively simple technology, but in thoughtful ways, drives clinical innovations without necessarily requiring the most advanced technology.

We have a real opportunity to have strong technological and leadership frameworks on which we can drive iterative innovations, making things a little bit better time and time again. We have a group at Stanford that is focused on this, and they’ve got this great tagline that says, “We want to be the very best at getting better.” And if we were to apply this thinking to technological innovations, we would do extremely well.


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