Will health system CIOs be the next great CEOs?

As health systems increasingly prioritize digital transformation, CIOs could become the next in line to take on the role of top executive. 


In the last decade, the CIO role has evolved from that of a tactical IT lead installing EHR and other applications to becoming strategic business leaders who support the goals of every other department in the organization. Whether it's powering telehealth and remote patient monitoring on the clinical side to automation and data analytics efforts in the finance and human resources departments, the CIO has unique visibility into the inner workings of the organization.

Suresh Gunasekaran is a prime example of a CIO turned CEO. He spent 10 years as associate vice president of health system affairs and CIO of university hospitals and clinics at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas before becoming COO and then eventually taking on the CEO role at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2018. In March, he became the president and CEO of UCSF Health in San Francisco.

Gartner and JMark, an IT service provider, estimated that in 2021, hospitals spent around $7,000 per employee per year on IT in the U.S. The firm estimates that by 2025, healthcare IT spend will reach $63 billion. While budgets are tight for most health systems, they are still spending on technologies and applications that will support clinicians and patients.

CIOs are also building out the digital teams hospitals will rely on to generate predictive analytics, deploy artificial intelligence and strengthen the infrastructure around patient engagement. Data is becoming an important currency in healthcare, and the organizations that know how to use and protect data the best will be most likely to succeed. 

CIOs also are becoming philosophical leaders who motivate their teams to accomplish the organization's mission. They are showing the IT professionals teammates their impact on patient care, and showing clinical and administrative leaders how technology can make their jobs easier and lead to better patient care. 

Over the next decade, organizations with a focus on digital transformation and patient experience will see the value in a chief executive with a CIO background.

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