Since being named CEO of CHIME three years ago, Russell Branzell has been focused on advancing the organization’s role in the industry — and not just by providing education for members, but by taking the lead with issues that are hindering the journey to digitization. Case in point? The lack of a consistent patient identifier. Last month, CHIME launched a challenge designed to leverage the top minds in the world to come up with a better solution. In this interview, Branzell discusses the game-changing question that Peter Diamandis posed CHIME’s board, his thoughts on the Cybersecurity Act, and the stratospheric rise of the CISO role. He also reflects on Chuck Christian’s term as CHIME Board of Trustees, and talks about why he is exciting about working with Marc Probst, and what attendees can expect at the upcoming CHIME/HIMSS CIO Forum.
- Chuck Christian’s term — “He was truly a catalyst for change.”
- Need for benchmarking & collaboration
- “It’s not a matter of if you’re going to get hacked.”
- Leveraging military experience to improve security
- CHIME/HIMSS Forum — “We have one day to make a big impact.”
- The vision: “Exceptional leaders transforming healthcare”
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He was a challenger for us. He often asked, how does this is benefit the membership? How does this benefit the industry? And he was constantly asking if the efforts we’re putting in place are the best we’ve got to create the kind of change and support we need to truly transform this industry.
If we treat security the same way we treat a lot of other things in healthcare technology, many will get left behind, many will be inadequate at best, and some will thrive beyond belief because of resources. What we want to do is try to bring everybody along as quickly as we can to a reasonable and risk-based level.
You don’t want it to become prominent because you got hacked and you’re in the paper everyday — you want it to be prominent because it’s an integral part of providing great patient care.
It’s a great time for people to not only connect professionally, but also reconnect personally. This is a very small industry; we all lean on each other every single day to try to get through this crazy world that we work in.
It’s really focusing around our new effort and focus from a vision directed by our board, which is to really build up our leaders to be those exceptional leaders — not just leaders within their organizations but also transforming healthcare as a whole.
Gamble: Chuck Christian just wrapped up what was a really busy year and represented CHIME well.
Branzell: Chuck — just like Marc [Probst] and all those before him, Randy [McCleese], Buddy [Hickman], and you can just keep going back and back and back to all the different individuals that have volunteered in that role — was truly a catalyst for change. He was a challenger for us. He often asked, how does this is benefit the membership? How does this benefit the industry? And he was constantly asking if the efforts we’re putting in place are the best we’ve got to create the kind of change and support we need to truly transform this industry.
That’s what I love about where the board is directing us to go right now. Chuck was an amazing leader in helping guide the board in that direction, and that was we have only limited capacity in all of our roles with our organizations and at a national stage level to make a big impact. Let’s continue to focus and do everything we can to impact patient care, to help our members be successful — both those who are new and those who have been around a long time. We have a lot of members that have been around now, and as we approach our 25th Fall Forum coming up this fall, we’ve got a lot of members that have been around that entire time, plus a lot of new and young CIOs that are just learning the trade. We have a duality and purpose of long-time support of those members that have been around, while also helping those new CIOs be successful, and Chuck was really cognizant of making sure we met the needs of all of our membership in the industry.
Gamble: Yeah, he’s a great individual. He’s somebody who could have a conversation with anyone in the room.
Branzell: He’s definitely a very grounded person.
Gamble: What are some of the other big priorities? I know that cybersecurity is something that’s always a huge priority at CHIME, and I wanted to talk a little bit about the Cybersecurity Act that was recently passed. What your thoughts on this — do you think it’s going to facilitate better sharing among CIOs and other leaders regarding threats?
Branzell: Definitely security — and cybersecurity in particular — is one of the highest priorities for CHIME and AEHIS, our association for healthcare security executives. Those are two organizations that really focus on this and are both dedicated to trying to reduce the learning curve and the process of securing our environment appropriately where it actually improves care, not hinders care.
I think, as you see the Cybersecurity Act passed, it’s a realization of an industry that probably was and probably is behind compared to others for the most part relative to securing its environment, securing its data, securing the mobile environment in which we are now working. I think that’s a true recognition that we need to work very hard in security, we need to figure out how to benchmark and share as quickly as we can. We don’t want 5,500 hospitals and health systems, physician offices and other points of care like long-term care all trying to figure out how to do this all on their own. If we treat security the same way we treat a lot of other things in healthcare technology, many will get left behind, many will be inadequate at best, and some will thrive beyond belief because of resources. What we want to do is try to bring everybody along as quickly as we can to a reasonable and risk-based level, and I think it’s incumbent upon us as an association, as a membership that’s really delineated out of those smart people that know how to do this, to find ways to partner with each other and partner with the federal government, which we’re already working with.
We were just recently invited to the White House Roundtable on cybersecurity on how to improve healthcare and patient outcomes. I’ll be spending some time talking about ways we can reduce the burden on the health system as a whole from the cybersecurity perspective, whether that’s sharing security information and contracts so that the process is easier for all, down to what technologies and what solutions should be in place and what environment should we be testing for both the ability to stop it, but also remediate. Because it’s not a matter of if you’re going to get hacked. It’s a matter of have you been hacked and have you figured it out yet. So there’s a whole lot of work that still needs to go on in this industry, but I’m very optimistic with not only our two organizations, but many others now focusing on this, that this will get the appropriate attention it needs.
Gamble: It will be interesting to see in the next year or so how the CSIO position starts to evolve and whether we see that start to pop up in more organizations — or at least something similar to that role.
Branzell: Yeah, it’s interesting to watch what happened when we launched AEHIS, the Association for the Executives in Health Information Security. We set what we thought was a stretched goal that in the first year, we would hit about 100 CISOs, and in the second year, maybe 150 to 200 might be an extreme stretch. In the first 18 months, we’re now sitting at 450 CISOs really representing a pretty high percentage of hospitals across the country, because many of them represent large health systems like Intermountain, Partners and HCA and those types of organizations. These are the CISOs sitting at that level, and so I think this is really just a testament to how rapidly an industry can change as that role becomes very, very prominent in an organization. You don’t want it to become prominent because you got hacked and you’re in the paper everyday — you want it to be prominent because it’s an integral part of providing great patient care. That’s what we’re seeing, and I would only imagine that our 450 in this fast growth that we’ve seen in AEHIS will only continue to grow to that pace, because there’s still a lot of our organizations that don’t have a full-time CSIO in place, and most are looking for them.
I talked to one vendor company just this week that in the last month, have hired 10 full-time security engineers, and prior to that hiring spree, had zero on their team. That just gives you some perspective of the need for this skillset that’s out there. Though this may sound like a little bit of a commercial, there is actually a void of skillset that’s out there, and I will tell you the one place that is very skilled in this is our military partners. As many leave the military, this is a great opportunity for our health systems and hospitals and others out there to look toward our military veterans with this experience they have in this area.
Gamble: That’s a really great point. That’s some experience that can be leveraged for sure. So, the last topic I wanted to touch on was HIMSS coming up next month and we have the forum on Monday this year, which is a first.
Branzell: It is, for the first time ever.
Gamble: Yeah, right? That’s what I thought I read. So, I wanted to talk a little bit about what’s in store for the forum and what attendees can expect.
Branzell: Yeah, obviously we have one day to make a big impact and then we get to spend some time with them along the rest of the week, whether it be with our focus groups or other events. And actually, for the first time ever we have space on the floor for our members to come spend time and share and collaborate with each other. And so, I think kicking this off with our Sunday network reception and getting people grounded and connected with each other is always a great opportunity for people. And it’s not just the members, it’s you all as well, our great partners in the press, and our partners in our foundation vendor firm. It’s just a great time — and you’ve been there, you’ve seen it — for people to not only connect professionally, but also reconnect personally. This is a very small industry; we all lean on each other every single day to try to get through this crazy world that we work in.
I think our event on Monday is going to be great. We do that in partnership with HIMSS, so it’s the CHIME/HIMSS CIO Forum in the spring, and it’s really focusing around our new effort and focus from a vision directed by our board, which is to really build up our leaders to be those exceptional leaders — not just leaders within their organizations but also transforming healthcare as a whole. That’s our vision, to be exceptional leaders transforming healthcare.
We’ve brought some great speakers in. We obviously will have a little bit of fun along the way — we always want to have fun doing these things, but we’ve got some great speakers: Thomas Goetz, who is founder and CEO of Iodine, which really is a great place from personal medicine perspective, so we’re keeping it relevant for ourselves; bestselling author Jack Uldrich, who’s really about organizational change and reshaping the skills of a leader, which is one of the things we really want to work on; Gary Loveman, VP of Aetna’s Healthagen and former chairman of Caesar’s Entertainment in Vegas, so that’s going to be great to understand the behavior science. We’re finally starting to understand it’s less about the technology than about changing process and human behavior, and it’s great to see that.
We’re really excited about our last speaker, and that’s Carey Lohrenz, the first female navy pilot of F-14 Tomcat. It’s hard to believe we’re hitting the 30th anniversary of Top Gun — it made me feel really old when I saw that on TV the other night. I remember seeing it when it came out and I was already in the military then so I’m starting to feel a little bit old. But I will tell you, she was really a pioneer in the Navy. She was the first pilot to fly that aircraft and really has been a fearless leader, and it will be a great story for all. It’s not a gender thing — it will just be great to hear one of our great female speakers out there really empowering people to do something different and challenge the status quo. So it will be great to have that event, and then we roll into the rest of the week, where we’ll be around all week trying to make sure we’re supporting our members and being there for them in everything we do.
Gamble: You mentioned having a spot on the exhibit floor — that’s going to be open to CHIME members and media?
Branzell: It is. We call it CHIME Central, just like the name of our website and our email address. We’re not out there selling anything; that’s not our goal. Our goal is to have a place where people can come together, get a beverage and a snack, spend some time. If you want to come over and do interviews there, you’re more than welcome to come over. We really want this to be a gathering place for people to destress a little bit, whether it’s our members who need a little escape from the craziness of that huge floor — or just the world in general — and need to vent and have a little one-on-one networking therapy, or have some true needs they want addressed, then we can spend some time on that, as well as our vendor partners who really need to escape that floor at some point. I think we’re right at the bottom of the escalator, so it’s going to be an easy place for people to come and chill out and relax a little bit, and that’s our hope. We can’t wait to see you there as well.
Gamble: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it, mostly because my last name is Gamble, so I should have some fun with that in Vegas.
Branzell: There you go. We’ll ask how much Kate Gamble gambled, so this could be funny.
Gamble: Great. Well, thank you so much. I look forward to seeing you guys, it’s always fun and should be a good time.
Branzell: Absolutely. We look forward to seeing everybody in Las Vegas.
Gamble: All right, great. Thanks again, Russ. Always appreciate it.
Branzell: Thank you.