There’s a reason why there’s so much focus on how much the CIO role has evolved and how it might take shape in the coming years. That reason? We don’t know yet what the picture looks like, says Marc Probst, Chairman of the CHIME Board and CIO at Intermountain Healthcare. What we do know is that “it’s going to be important for a long time,” which makes it all the more critical for CIOs and other leaders to collaborate as much as possible. In this interview, he reflects on his first nine months as chair, what the organization is doing to increase member engagement, where he believes the industry is headed, and what attendees can expect at the upcoming CHIME16 Fall CIO Forum.
Gamble: You began your term as CHIME Board Chair in January. What has surprised you most about the role?
Probst: I wouldn’t call any of them surprises, because I’ve been on the board for a number of years and understood the caliber of people we’re working this. I will say that this is a very progressive and thoughtful organization. They’ve really been able to put the members at the center. That’s what this is about. And there’s a lot of activity going on, whether it’s international or the Speaker’s Bureau or the work we’re doing with our Foundation. But all of it can be tied back to benefit to the members. That’s a passion of mine, and it’s really neat to see the organization focused in that way.
Gamble: When we spoke at HIMSS in February, you identified member engagement as one of your key goals as Board Chair. How has CHIME been working to increase engagement?
Probst: CHIME is broadening its services to its membership. If you look at advocacy alone, it’s night and day from two years ago, and probably even greater than it was last year. The benefits of advocacy in this highly-regulated time of Meaningful Use, MACRA, MIPS, cybersecurity, etc. — that value is tremendous to our membership. The real difference — and I spend a lot of time in Washington — is that everyone opens their door to them. They all know who CHIME is, and they want to hear what CHIME has to say. I think that’s a huge benefit.
And again, as we provide benefit, that’s going to create membership engagement. Our numbers this year are going to blow away those of any other year in terms of attendance, and that shows engagement. A lot of people are engaging by teaching classes, participating in forums that are provided by CHIME, and coming to Washington to advocate for health IT. I’m really happy with where things are headed.
Gamble: Let’s talk about CHIME’s international efforts. A few years ago, the thinking among many was that there isn’t that much to be learned by other countries where the healthcare systems are so different. Now it seems to have shifted as leaders have realized that best practices can be shared in areas like patient engagement. Are you starting to see that value of shared best practices with leaders in other countries?
Probst: I think we’re just beginning to see the value. I do a fair amount of international travel around what I do in healthcare, and there’s so much we can learn, because they didn’t go through Meaningful Use; they went right to population health management. They have national health plans and health systems. They’ve learned things that are going to be incredible applicable to us, and now that they’re engaging and coming to the Fall Forum and we’re interacting more, we’re going to see tremendous value.
Gamble: I’d like to get some thoughts on where the industry is headed. You said in a recent Tweet that fixing healthcare is going to require foundational change, in terms of standards, patient and provider expectations, and financial reform. Is it difficult for CIOs not to feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done?
Probst: It is overwhelming, but it isn’t just us. It takes a village to do a lot of things; this is going to take a very large metropolitan city to solve these issues. But I don’t necessarily feel overwhelmed as a CIO. I think we’re all in it together.
The job of a CIO is just so overwhelming to start with; there are just so many aspects of the business we have to be engaged in.
One of those things on every CIO’s list is cybersecurity. Because this is such a sensitive issue, it’s hard to get people to open up about their strategies or their experiences with breaches. How critical is it that CIOs are willing to share knowledge to help push the industry forward?
I understand why people don’t want to talk about individual breaches; they probably shouldn’t because of their orgs. But what they’ve learned through those processes — or through our CISO circles and sharing if something is happening so that we can prevent it — is really important, and I think it’s happening a lot. We’re involved in at least three informal groups that have made that commitment to share, and we’re in the midst of generating a very formal process for doing that as well. So I think some of the walls are coming down. And it’s not CIOs who are afraid to share it; it’s organizations that don’t want that data out there. As they become more aware of the benefits of sharing it, I think we’ll see a lot more transparency in sharing this information.
Gamble: The Fall Forum is approaching. In terms of what attendees can expect, it looks like there’s a lot of emphasis on the evolving role of the CIO, particularly in the track sessions. Do you expect this to be a big area of focus?
Probst: I do expect to hear a lot of discussion around it. I spend a lot of non-sleeping hours lying in bed thinking about it, because it is evolving a lot and changing. I don’t know that there’s going to be a single profile of a healthcare CIO — there certainly isn’t one today.
But I think we’re going to see some stratification; we’re going to see more technical CIOs that are very focused on 24 X 7 X 365 services and making sure networks are hardened and we have strong security in place. And they’re going to be incredibly valuable CIOs, because the organizations are going to handle some of the other things, like strategy and population health in a different forum, and they’re going to need to assure that they have a really strong technical foundation. There are going to be other organizations that want the CIO to participate in those roles, because that’s the skillset we need. And they’ll still handle networks and security, but it will happen with other folks within the team.
I think we don’t know yet what the future role of the CIO is going to be. What I can tell you is that it’s going to be important for a long time.
Gamble: In our interviews, we’re finding that there is a huge variety in past experiences when it comes to today’s CIO. Whereas in the past it was a little more cut and dry, now there’s no clear line to the position. Would you agree?
Probst: Definitely. And there’s no clear line in who CIOs report to. Part of CHIME’s challenge is to not pigeon-hole anyone. We don’t want anyone to feel less valuable because their role may be different than my role. It’s about what skillsets you bring to the table, and what skillsets does the organization have. Twenty years ago, leaders — CEOs, COOs, CFOs — had hardly any IT acumen. They were completely dependent on us nerds to figure this stuff out. Today, they’re pretty wise. They have a lot of experience with IT. They still need us to do the hardcore work of taking care of the systems and even provide a lot of strategic input, but it’s not like it used to be. They’re not as dependent. So it’s going to just continue to evolve.
Gamble: In keeping with that theme, I noticed that the track session you’re going to be participating in has the format of a TED Talk. That sounds like something that will be a departure from the traditional presentation.
Probst: It is, and I think it will be fun. Judy Kirby came up with the idea, and I thought it sounded like a different way of sharing information.
Gamble: Finally, what advice would you offer to first-time attendees on how to get the most out of the conference?
Probst: Go to everything. Participate in everything, because it’s all valuable. You won’t be wasting your time. And of course, network, network, network. And if you need help networking, seek out any member of the CHIME staff or board, and we’ll be more than happy to do that, because that’s where the value is.
It’s so cool to have vendors and providers in such a casual setting where the vendors aren’t selling and we’re not out there to buy; we’re just creating relationships and sharing knowledge. It’s a very unique setting.
Gamble: Great, this has been so helpful. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to seeing you in Phoenix.