The Changing Role of the Hospital CIO

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When asked what the most pressing challenges facing hospital CIOs today are, Russ Branzell, CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, quickly replies:

"Everything."

As the head of the 1,400-member CHIME, Mr. Branzell has seen the job requirements of hospital CIOs expand in both scope and complexity. "CIOs now cover more functions and have more responsibility," he says, explaining CIOs often now oversee biomedical and health information management staff and have responsibilities that extend beyond information technology.

"The scope of the job has definitely increased — which it probably should," says Mr. Branzell. What he sees as adding significantly to the challenges faced by CIOs is the increased complexity of the job's requirements.

"In the past, CIOs handled one or two large initiatives per year," says Mr. Branzell, who served as senior vice president and CIO Poudre Valley Health System and CEO of Colorado Health Medical Group with University of Colorado Health in Aurora before taking the helm at CHIME in April. "We all used to work really hard for several months on a large project, then take a step back and go into maintenance mode." That doesn't happen anymore.

"Now, one or two initiatives would seem like a small amount of work," says Mr. Branzell. Most CIOs tackle four, five or six major projects, often overlapping and some, like meaningful use, requiring a nonstop, multiyear effort.

"The magnitude of all the things that are happening right now is kind of incredible," he says. "From the ICD-10 transition to meaningful use to patient engagement to community engagement — and the need to address all that with shrinking budgets."

The increase in both scope and complexity has reshaped the CIO role to what Mr. Branzell calls a "strategic leader," a leader who develops a task-oriented staff and focuses on the overall goals and strategy of the organization.

Cindy Peterson, vice president and CIO of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, Calif., is currently leading her team through the final stages before the go-live of the hospital's new computerized physician order entry system. The project involves not only the technical implementation of the system, but also making the technology a tool to be used to deliver care more efficiently.

To accomplish these goals, Ms. Peterson has recruited three physician champions who will help other members of the clinical staff use, and engage with, the new system, ensuring the technology works for the hospital and its care objectives.

"[Hospital CIOs] are all now very much involved in creating a high-performing team," says Ms. Peterson. "Projects come in every day — you have to have a superior staff behind you to get them done."

Ed Martinez, senior vice president and CIO of Miami Children’s Hospital, has been increasingly focused on the hospital's operations as a whole, even those that fall outside the traditional scope of health IT.

He is currently focused on improving his hospital’s revenue cycle and patient engagement strategy, as well as developing the hospital's long-term growth strategy.

"Technology is still important, but it's become more about how it impacts the organization from a growth and strategy perspective, while increasing consumer engagement" says Mr. Martinez. "The CIO job has changed dramatically. We've become more business strategists, more core corporate strategists, adding to the overall solutions" needed by the hospital, he says.

The shift in CIOs roles has led to both 16-hour workdays and fundamental changes in how innovation and technology is utilized by the healthcare industry.

“It’s important to point out what’s being accomplished is unbelievable,” says CHIME’s Mr. Branzell. “Their work will bear incredible fruit in both the short term and the long term — they’re positioning us to save our healthcare system.”

More Articles on CIOs:

5 BYOD Best Practices From Jersey City Medical Center CIO Stephen Li
Survey: 80% of CIOs Want to Use Big Data, Though 84% Said Big Data Use Presents Challenges
CIOs Call on CMS to Extend Meaningful Use Stage 2

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