The life of a healthcare CIO: Baylor Scott & White Health's Matthew Chambers

In collaboration with CHIME, 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 ( or Elizabeth Earl (

An interview with Matthew Chambers, CIO of Baylor Scott & White Health.

(Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Question: You were CIO of Scott & White Healthcare since July 2011 and then became CIO of Baylor Scott & White Health following the merger in October 2013. How have you seen the health IT industry change just over the past four years?

matthew chambersMatthew Chambers: Technology, especially consumer technology, is becoming much more pervasive. People and providers are asking for it, and we're all ultimately patients and consumers of healthcare. We all want to see the same level of consumerization and technology friendliness we get from our airline apps and restaurant review apps and our taxi apps — that same level of easy access and helpfulness. The other thing I think you're seeing is, perhaps as correlation or causation, coming into healthcare IT from other industry verticals. In the past, healthcare IT was much more insular in terms of an industry vertical. We're on the second or third curve of technology now. We spent a lot of money on transactional support systems, and now we're trying to get into mining them for intelligence and better clinical outcomes.

Q: In your time at Baylor Scott & White Health, what has been your biggest accomplishment?

MC: Since [the merger], we have successfully built out a combined corporate and IT governance model that helps us to make decisions around prioritization of our work. It was especially important for us because both of the companies pre-merger had existing governance structures. They were successful, but didn't work in the same way. The two systems had the same vision and mission, but the way we did things were a little bit different, so bringing those together was very important. For example, we had a pretty contentious meeting at one point where we were trying to understand the best ways to prioritize major decisions. One of our insightful business leaders said, "What you're highlighting here is a corporate governance issue; this is not an IT issue." He realized the impact of what we'd been stressing all along, in that IT should be a service organization, existing to satisfy the mission of the organization. We therefore needed the operators, clinicians, and administrators to help us prioritize how to best utilize our limited resources. It's a collaborative approach we need, but one built on the foundation of the BSWH vision and mission. It's been really fulfilling to see the organization come together and do that well.

Q: What do you see as your biggest misstep or mistake?

MC: Our approach to organizational change management. Post-merger, I don't know if I spent enough time understanding the merged environment and dealing with the major stakeholders to help them understand my vision and, more importantly, their vision. The first thing we need before we're ready to change is to see a need for change. Once that is in place, you can build an effective path for that change. I don't know that I spent enough time developing a shared need for change — one founded upon our newly integrated organization's vision. I ended up getting some pushback that I was moving too aggressively and had to reprioritize some of our efforts, so I adjusted our approach based on the needs of our leaders. Now what we're seeing as we continue to work and build relationships with our stakeholders is them coming back saying, "Now I see a shared vision we can build on together." You don't have to be the smartest guy in the room. You want to be the person who can help the organization reach consensus and reach the goal.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?

MC: In healthcare IT, we're not currently agile enough to support the pace of changes we're seeing in our business model and industry. You see consumerization and the retail model emerging rapidly in healthcare. Meanwhile, we're still in the tail-end of very large operations systems implementations with our EHRs, and we're not yet nimble enough to meet the need of our business right away. We're therefore trying to retool on the fly. The challenge is to make these rapid changes to meet market demand, though system changes can take years and a lot of capital. Operators or administrators want better, faster, cheaper. Unfortunately you can't usually get all three at the same time. What we've seen in our desire to move aggressively and be responsive is that you can do interfaces and aggregation, but you don't always end up with what we look for in patient safety and accuracy. That's the challenge. How do you balance the speed of what our patients and our providers want along with the No. 1 important factor, which is patient safety?

Q: What is your favorite part of being in the health IT industry?

MC: I've always been in IT, but I've been in other industries before healthcare. There are a couple of reasons feel like I've found my home and I feel really blessed and fortunate to be here. First of all, the cost of healthcare is a serious matter of national policy. When we're 18 or 19 percent of our GDP, we've got to find ways to bend that cost curve. Obviously technology has been leveraged effectively in other industries to do that. I think there's also room to do very innovative things in healthcare. The other is, quite frankly, our clinicians, our nurses, our providers, they put their heart and soul into what they do everyday. I'm not hands-on patient care, but I try to get close and do rounding when I can. If my stakeholders and my internal customers give their heart and soul, I feel like our need for improvement is great enough that I can do that too. There are very few industries where I think you get such personal fulfillment around doing something very, very important.

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

MC: I joke with my folks that I have rules for success. The one that's most important to me is to build a very high-performing team, and the easiest way to do that is to hire people who are smarter than you. When I said earlier it's not about being the smartest guy in the room, one of the best compliments I've received from my organization is "Matt you've built a really good team and your team is performing well." It's easy to be a smart person, but it is much harder to enable an entire team to function effectively. It takes a willingness to be hard on yourself to acknowledge both your personal strengths and shortcomings, and then be supportive of team members who are stronger than you in their area of expertise. If you give it all for your team and you trust that they'll be there for you, I think it pays off. You have to take chances in life, in love, in finance and everything you do. And when those chances are successful, the rewards are immeasurable.

More articles on IT leadership:

CFOs hesitant to hand budget power to CIOs
The future of the healthcare CIO: Expanding roles, relationships and opportunities
3 things keeping CIOs up at night

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