It’s not exactly news that the CIO role has undergone a significant transformation over the past few years, going from an IT leader tasked with keeping the trains running, to a strategic partner with a seat at the leadership table. But what about the rest of the table — are the occupants of the other seats experiencing as much change?
Hillary Ross thinks so. As IT Practice Leader at Witt/Kieffer, she’s observed an evolution across the C-suite, from the emergence of new roles like the chief digital officer, to the rise in prominence of CISOs and CNIOs. Recently, healthsystemCIO.com chatted with Ross about the trends she is seeing with respect to healthcare IT leadership roles, how these developments will impact the CIO’s strategy, what organizations are ultimately looking for in a CIO, and what she believes is the cornerstone in the industry’s advancement.
[To read Part 1 of this interview, click here.]
Gamble: When you’re doing a CIO search, what are the qualities you value most? Is it something that’s constantly changing?
Ross: Yes, it certainly is. In terms of what we look for, it’s based on the needs of our clients at the time, but typically, most organizations are looking for a strategic leader — someone who can be a visionary; someone who can keep up with the evolving landscape of healthcare and help lead transformation. Organizations are investing heavily in things like AI, blockchain, and cloud, and they need a CIO who can embrace those areas of innovation and provide leadership.
It’s a process. We’re very relationship-focused, and so we’re always having conversations with CIOs, as well as CEOs, to stay in touch with the needs of the organization. It’s just a natural progression of our relationships with these leaders.
Gamble: Right. I’m sure it varies based on the size and scope of the organization, and there’s not a standardized checklist.
Ross: It’s very interesting. One thing we’re seeing is that organizations are interested in speaking with CIOs from outside of healthcare. The thinking is that other industries have been ahead of the curve in terms of innovation, and so they want to look at the talent profile they could bring in.
So we’ll make a concerted effort to include, in our slate, leaders outside of healthcare; but interestingly, when we present them and review the candidates with our client, they tend to choose healthcare CIOs. They’re curious to see their backgrounds, but when it’s time to pull the trigger, they opt for healthcare, because it is a unique environment. It’s about patient care as opposed to profits, which is typically the case in other industries.
It’s understanding the intricacies of healthcare — that’s a steep learning curve for CIOs from outside of it. That doesn’t mean they can’t do it; there are health systems with CIOs that come from other industries and are very successful. But in our experience, we’re typically seeing organizations opt for leaders from healthcare — who, by the way, have proven to be very innovative as well.
Gamble: It really is so complex, especially when it comes to all the regulations and requirements.
Ross: Exactly. Another thing we’re noticing is that diversity has become a big priority. Whether it’s gender, nationality, or race, they want to see diversity in their slates, and so we’re making a concerted effort to bring diverse talent to the conversation.
Gamble: That’s encouraging to hear. Another role I wanted to talk about is nursing leadership, particularly the CNIO role. What type of trends are you seeing here?
Ross: We’ve actually done quite a few CNIO searches this past year. It’s wonderful working with nurses, and it seems organizations are very interested in CNIOs. With so many organizations in EHR optimization mode, there are always enhancements and upgrades being planned, which necessitates training. CNIOs are a valuable resource in terms of working with clinicians and helping them to more effectively use these systems. They provide an important bridge between nurses and IT, as well as the physician community. So they’ve been very involved in the training of the physicians and nurses, as well as optimizing the EMR.
Gamble: Right. I’m sure that’s going to be an important role for a long time to come.
Ross: It’s interesting. For so many years, organizations were focused heavily on implementation, and now they’re focused on optimization, and being able to leverage all of this data. And so it’s critical to have that bridge, and have individuals in leadership roles who can help clinicians feel more comfortable using the technology, and help them work faster, more efficiently, and smarter with their EHR. With a lot of the searches we’re doing for CMIOs, CNIOs, Chief Clinical Information Officers, it’s just a huge ask on the organizations: ‘Help us make clinicians’ lives easier so they can focus on treating patients.’
Gamble: There’s a lot of discussion around improving workflow and usability, and trying to ease the burden on physicians and nurses. It’s really encouraging. Are you hearing this as well?
Ross: Absolutely. It’s the very innovative, progressive organizations that have CNIOs. They’re a very valued part of the leadership team.
Another role we’re seeing more is the Chief Research Informatics Officer. Whereas the CMIO is the bridge between IT and the clinicians, the Chief Research Informatics Officer is the bridge between research, researchers, and IT. They play a critical role in harnessing the data for research that can then be applied in the hospital setting.
Gamble: It’s such an interesting time. There are so many new roles emerging in healthcare. But I guess it’s fitting, because the needs vary so much from one organization to the next.
Ross: Right. And the complexities of the organization necessitate specialization. I remember years ago, some organizations would come to us for a CIO search and say, ‘We’d like a CIO that could also be the CMIO.’ They’d try to combine them. But these are two separate roles requiring two separate profiles. I think organizations are recognizing that with respect to the chief digital officer. Rather than trying to combine digital with the CIO responsibilities, they’re realizing it needs to be two separate positions.
Gamble: What about innovation? It’s been an area of focus for forward-thinking organizations, but is that being reflected in leadership roles?
Ross: Definitely. Healthcare is always transforming and evolving, and innovation is really in the DNA of all of these roles: the CIO, Chief Digital Officer, and Chief Health Informatics Officer, among others. Innovation is part of all those conversations.
Many organizations also have a Chief Innovation Officer. And in fact, some of these health systems have spun off separate innovation centers that sit outside of the organization. It’s structured that way because innovation requires a nimbleness that sometimes doesn’t happen in health systems. The other part to that is they’re able to commercialize the technology and sell it to other systems. It’s really interesting.
Gamble: I agree. And it really makes sense for the organizations who have the resources to set up these centers, because it provides an opportunity to pilot tools in a real-life setting. It’s fascinating.
Ross: It is. It makes what we do so interesting, getting to work with all these talented, innovative leaders across the country. As cool as the technology is, the bottom line is impacting care and improving the patient experience. And for us, to play a small role in connecting people to the right places has been tremendous.
Gamble: Well said. After ending an interview, I often find myself saying, ‘Wow. I get to speak with some really bright people. It’s inspiring.
Ross: It really is.
Gamble: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It’s been great to hear your perspective, and I hope we can catch up again soon.
Ross: Thank you. It’s always wonderful to chat with you.