Healthcare CIOs: Putting the Patient First when it Comes to Health IT

By Don Dally  /  26 Feb 2013

Today’s hospital and health system CIOs certainly have their work cut out for them. They’re faced with the challenge of implementing technologies that comply with ever-evolving regulations and keep patient data safe and secure, all while seamlessly improving the complex day-to-day lives of the clinicians that use them. As a result, more often than not, CIOs are forced to juggle a range of competing priorities that can make anyone’s head spin when thinking about where to start.

I’ve worked alongside these business leaders for years, and if I can offer any advice that may help them be successful amidst this multitude of priorities, it would be:

  • Remember the big picture – There are so many individual challenges facing CIOs that it can be tough to take a step back. For example, right now many CIOs are focused on secure text messaging, which no one argues is an important clinical communication tool. But when a clinician sends a text message with critical, time-sensitive patient information, even when the content of that message is securely delivered, the patient still suffers if it is sent to the wrong physician. So looking at one issue in isolation can often complicate the bigger picture or detract from larger strategic goals. The analogy I like to use is shopping for a car. Airbags are important to keeping the driver and passengers safe and secure, but it’s critical not to forget the overall performance of the car. CIOs that see the value in taking a holistic approach to clinical communications will ensure that no matter whether a message is sent via text, email, phone, pager, etc., it is delivered to the right physician at the right time – and as a result will keep patient care at the core of any implementation.
  • Consider the clinical workflow – In an effort to help improve communication and the sharing of information, IT departments are often tempted to adapt successful business-user technologies for the clinical environment. But many technologies that are wildly effective in other industries just won’t fly in healthcare. Take instant messaging as an example. While this technology may work well for administrative and IT teams who have access to a laptop or desktop for much of their day, clinical teams are always on the move, dashing from one patient room to the next, and often times between multiple facilities. From what I’ve seen, healthcare CIOs are most successful when they are careful about the introduction of enterprise technology into clinical environments and consider solutions that map to these unique workflow needs.
  • Embrace your CMIO/CNIO – Having evolved from the clinical team to become a major player in helping evaluate health care technologies, the CMIO or CNIO is one of a healthcare CIO’s most valuable assets. From being able to provide insight on what clinical workflow needs should be considered, to helping bring clinical teams on board with adopting and embracing new technologies, these folks can become advocates for healthcare CIOs across the entire hospital or health system. I wouldn’t worry as much about them encroaching on the IT role, but instead recommend leveraging their expertise to bridge the gap from IT to clinicians.

Healthcare CIOs today are juggling an impressive and never-ending list of demands from a number of different groups. From my work with these executives, those who are able to keep their eyes on the prize – better patient care – are the ones making the greatest impact on making real change in their health systems.

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