My career in healthcare now spans over 35 years. I started out as a clinician (medical technologist), but have spent the last 20-plus years in the healthcare IT space. I spent several years in the software vendor world, well over 20 years in the healthcare consulting environment, and approximately 10 years in the provider IT space, six of those at the top of the provider IT food chain.
I believe that these experiences, and my success in those endeavors, gives me some level of credence regarding the role and the challenges of the healthcare CIO. Having been actively involved in various professional organizations (CHIME, HIMSS, AAMC, ACHE) at the national level adds additional gravitas to my remarks.
There is no question that 2015 will be just as challenging, or maybe more so, than 2014 was for the healthcare CIO. The many legislative requirements and the rapidly changing financial landscape of accountable care and population health still pose a significant burden on healthcare executives everywhere, including the Chief Information Officer.
As I create my observations regarding areas of opportunity for healthcare CIOs, I want to be clear that is not my intent to say that these points of opportunity apply to healthcare CIOs across the board. From my recent meetings with healthcare CIOs across the country, I recognize that every CIO faces some challenges unique to their organization. My point here is “if you’ve met one CIO, you’ve met one CIO.”
Mistake #1: It’s all about IT
I don’t think there’s any more challenging industry than healthcare today. We are trying to transform an industry that not only represents a significant portion of our GNP, but also represents a significant component of the American dream. Whether you see healthcare as a right or a privilege, there is no question that a fundamental reorganization of healthcare delivery is appropriate in this day and age. IT is an important enabler of this reorganization. There is no question about that. And yet, it is not about technology. It is about creating a better quality of life, a better clinical outcome at a lower cost, and a better experience for the patient and their family.
In the book Get Out of IT while You Can, Craig Schiefelbein speaks very eloquently in this regard, saying, “Those who create the most value, have the most success, and typically enjoy a better quality of life do not see themselves as in IT, but in the industry and purpose their company serves.” This has never been truer than in healthcare IT today. We must understand and see ourselves in the larger construct of the transformational change in healthcare.
Mistake #2: There is no wisdom in youth
I pride myself in being as up-to-date regarding technology as most anyone in my industry. I have a constant stream of information to update me regarding the latest and greatest technologies that have potential for health care. And yet, my age and maturity sometimes act as a barrier to the possibilities for the application of this new technology. Point in case, I am a Google Glass Explorer. The possibilities of wearable technology in health care is something that I find incredibly intriguing, and is a subject I have personally presented about. And yet, I have chosen to give this technology to Generation X and Millennial staff members in order to get their point of view on how these technologies might create value. They have arrived at conclusions and potential uses that I might not have realized or understood due to my limited comprehension and awareness.
Mistake #3: There is no power in collaboration
Even as healthcare becomes more challenging and competitive, the need to combine wisdom and experience, even among your competitors, is growing exponentially day by day. Yes, we are in an increasingly competitive market, and yet the secret to future success lies in our ability to reduce the cost of technology by collaborating with other organizations to realize the advantages of shared services, especially in the area of infrastructure and other commodity-driven technology services.
Are there opportunities in combining data centers? Are there opportunities in joint contracting for telecom? Are there opportunities and consolidation of helpdesk or other IT services? Are there advantages to joint contracting noncompetitive software solutions like ERP?
In order to drive down the ever-expanding expense of technology, we must begin to look to other competitive or geographically advantageous organizations to drive down the cost of infrastructure and other basic technology services. Whether it is hosting opportunities in our data centers, or sharing of application suites, the opportunity to reduce our expenses on behalf of reducing costs must be explored and an open mind towards these opportunities must be developed. This is a significant change in the culture of most healthcare organizations, but one that our current situation demands.
No, there is no silver bullet for the problems that plague healthcare today. Yet it is clear that an increased awareness of other philosophies and mindsets is crucial to survival. There is a new paradigm and a new approach to problem-solving that is required to survive — for CIOs and all leaders.