Where great healthcare IT teams are focused next

The next generation of effective CIOs will be focused on strategic leadership, effective communication and team builders.

Four CIOs from across the U.S. share how their role and IT teams are changing.

Craig Richardville. Senior Vice President and Chief Information and Digital Officer (Salt Lake City): When the CIO was developed, it was focused on the financial side and expense controls. It was hardware-focused. We looked for efficiencies and things that would provide a higher level of confidence and decision-making. Then, it transitioned into operations, and people reported to or became part of the COO's staff or the chief administrative officer.

So, now that we have the software creating all this data, the focus was decision-making, with the cumulative data that came into play. Now we're into 4.0, which is really digital, and we're seeing more chief digital and information officers coming into play. That focuses upon engagement not only within the healthcare system but also outside the healthcare system. We're trying to make sure that we can be part of your health from a clinical perspective, just like in banking; they want you to be healthy from a financial perspective.

Regarding how teams are changing, teams are becoming a lot more strategic. When you look at the team as the evolutions, it's tough to draw lines between them. The work that we do impacts the company and the industry. So, the collaboration is important because, as I like to tell people, if people can figure out that I'm the CIO, or the chief digital and information officer, I'm not doing my job. After all, I need to understand the business first, understand some of the clinical burdens out there, the opportunities we can create, and bring that back into the world of technology.

So, you're starting to see a transition with some of the large retailers and tech companies that we're becoming more of a technology company that delivers healthcare. I think there are opportunities to advance quickly by working with many high-tech companies and having them truly embrace the change, embracing the competitive spirit, and moving the industry forward. That's part of our new collaboration or competition, depending on how you view it.

Curt Cole, MD. CIO of Weill Cornell Medicine (New York City): We were early EHR adopters, so I have had the luxury of moving away from the mundane torture of implementation to focus on research and innovation. Inside my department, the focus is always on process improvement internally and for the missions we serve. I spend more time thinking about optimizing the experience for my staff and our users. Especially with COVID, morale is a huge focus. And our institution has made diversity a very high priority. For me, the key to all of the above is focusing on individual recognition, growth and development. As a faculty member, I see what we do for students, and I'm very committed to extending that orientation to our staff.

One example is my work at CornellTech; our new engineering school focused on entrepreneurship. There, I get to advise new companies with a real shot at changing care. I try to connect the students to our IT staff so they can learn from clinical experts and those who know the systems and the data. Obviously, this is good for students, but it is great for the staff too. A lot of the magic of academic medicine comes from having new students re-ask fundamental questions year after year. That's good for faculty and good for staff. It keeps us grounded while constantly questioning why we do what we do.

Raymond Lowe. Senior Vice President and CIO of AltaMed (Los Angeles): I would define the CIO role by the letter I: information, informatics, innovation and influence. From a strategic perspective, the CIO understands the organization's ecosystems and must have solutions before the organization utilizes the solution. As evident by the pandemic, CIOs had to utilize all of these skills as we pivoted healthcare across the country practically overnight. The days of the CIO managing the back office only are in the rearview mirror and we are able to affect the strategy and outcomes. The challenge is change management for staff to embrace new workflows effectively. Technology and workflow account for 15 percent of solutions, while the other 85 percent is all people.

IT teams have to skill up to meet new technology and apps. Having a blended ecosystem of on-prem data centers, cloud computing and hosted applications, all while being cyber-vigilant. The cloud and mobility are enablers of digital transformation. I look to have teams with defined scope within an area and for the leaders to blend how their teams work together, creating new learning opportunities. As we deploy new technologies, it's nearly impossible to have all the skills to successfully implement, thus a stronger reliance on vendors and partners to help us stand up a solution and for the organization to operate.

As Wilbur Wright stated, "It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill." This is an exciting time in healthcare IT, and I expect the opportunities and pace to continue to meet the demands of our patients, providers and team members.

Neal Patel, MD. CIO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Nashville, Tenn.): For background, I'm a physician who started as the physician champion type person 25 years ago here at Vanderbilt, and grew into the role of CMIO, and then moved into the CIO role, which for us is really on the digital side and the clinical application side of the work. We have a CTO that takes care of classic IT infrastructure and enterprise business programs.

The role of the CIO is evolving to be much more knowledgeable about the operational and clinical processes in ways where technology intersects and not just about making sure that the technology's working. Therefore, it's been an interesting journey to begin to push folks to think about how different applications may need to work together for a solution that no single vendor has the answer to yet. We have begun to leverage those areas here at Vanderbilt to make magic happen.

 

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