This week, many of the nation’s healthcare CIOs have converged on San Antonio at the CHIME Fall Forum. At first blush, one might think they’re here to discuss technologies like EHRs, infrastructure or health information exchange. At second blush, one might think they’re here to learn how colleagues are interpreting this or that Meaningful Use requirement. In truth, however, they’re here for two reasons: first off, for a much needed pit-stop during what can be called the Healthcare Reform 500 (a race that seems to require going faster and faster while the finish line retreats beyond the horizon) and to bone up on that most critical of success factors: the nuances of leadership.
Without question, the role of CIO — one John Halamka, M.D., CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, recently described as being chock full of accountability and responsibility but embodying little authority — requires mastery of leadership for success.
While not asking specifically about leadership, an important facet of it came to light during an interview I recently did with Gary Barnes, CIO at Medical Center Health System. Barnes, an active CHIMEr, was talking about how he maintains strong lines of communication with physicians by taking his lunch in the doctor’s longue. I then joked that he must occasionally want to take a meal alone when not up for being accosted by a physician who may be displeased with some aspect of the hospital’s technological environment. To this, Barnes laughed, saying it sure was tempting sometimes.
Then he said something profound, “Well,” he added, “that’s just part of the job — to take that chewing when it’s being given. And I just tell my staff that if it happens to them, they should tell the doctor to call me. I’ll take the chewing for them.”
It’s counter-intuitive to think that a member of the C-suite gets “chewed,” but that’s just part of the dynamic in healthcare, where high-powered independent physicians bring the money in, and CIOs send it out. Healthcare CIOs know getting kicked around is all part of the job, and the best ones are willing into accept it because the work is more meaningful than ensuring a stock trade settles in microseconds or retail shelves are restocked automatically.
In San Antonio this week, no doubt peers will exchange some vendor gossip, talk about how upgrades are going, and, yes, discuss the freight train that could be Stage 2, but they’ll also swap stories of getting ripped by the doctor whose wrath everyone at the organization seems to fear. Interestingly, when they recount that story, my bet is they’ll do it with a smile because, you see, Dr. Destructo also happens to work miracles in the operating room and, perhaps, when you extract him from the high pressure environment of the hospital, he might even be fun to hang around.
The stakes are so high in healthcare, the pressure so ratcheted up, that cooler heads often don’t prevail. The superior CIO, like Barnes, exemplifies real leadership by taking the blame with something goes wrong and declining the credit (in favor of a staff member) when it goes right. Superior healthcare CIOs always remember that everyone at the organization is there for one reason — to serve the patient, to save lives and improve the quality of time left to those who cannot be saved. With all that in mind, I suppose taking a chewing here and there isn’t all that bad.