For Tanya Townsend, the journey to becoming CHIME Board Chair was a long one — not just because she has been an active member of the organization since 2005, but because, like so many things, her term was pushed back by a year because of the pandemic.
The delay, however, wasn’t all bad; it provided her with an opportunity to watch and learn from her predecessor, John Kravitz. And so, when she officially assumed the title in January of 2021, Townsend was ready to hit the ground running.
Recently, she spoke with healthsystemCIO about what she hopes to accomplish as just the third female to serve as Board Chair; the importance of promoting diversity in healthcare IT leadership teams; and how mentoring has helped grow professionally. Townsend also shared thoughts on what attendees can expect at the inaugural ViVE conference, and why fostering collaboration is more critical than ever.
Can you tell me a bit about what attendees can expect at ViVE, and what excites you most?
Townsend: As you know, this is a groundbreaking digital health event that we think will have an amazing amount of education and networking opportunities. It’s a great opportunity for our industry to come together. And particularly as we manage through the pandemic and continue to advance innovation, we need to learn from each other and lean on each other.
And there’s going to be a lot of focus on digital.
Townsend: Yes. Digital innovation is revolutionizing healthcare. It’s going to take the whole village — the whole ecosystem. We’re seeing advancements in technologies like AI machine learning, advanced analytics, patient portals, etc. There are so many different aspects and avenues where innovation and healthcare come together in the IT sector. That’s what we hope to represent with our speakers.
There’s also going to be a lot of opportunity with startups. Executives from every vertical will be represented, and it should be highly interactive. Our meeting spaces are designed to foster fast networking and dialogue, and so, we believe attendees will be able to cover more ground.
You recently began your term as CHIME Board Chair. What does it mean to hold this title?
Townsend: Interestingly, I was originally supposed to start in 2021, but we all agreed to take an extra year because of Covid. Thankfully, my predecessor, John Kravitz, agreed to spend another year in the Board seat, and so I was able to learn a lot from him.
I first joined CHIME back in 2005. It was early on in my career when I joined. I feel like the education and networking opportunities have been instrumental in my career development. I’ve participated in Boot Camp and other events, and it has been great. I’m very honored and humbled to now sit in the Board seat and help give back to future digital health leaders.
The ecosystem has grown so much since I first joined many years ago, and that’s so exciting. There are so many different avenues represented, from informatics to technology to security to applications. It’s exciting to see all of that continue to grow and to look at what we’ve been able to achieve together.
What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure?
Townsend: I’m also excited about where we’re going. We now call it CHIME 3.0, since we’re approaching our 30th anniversary. I’m very proud to be the third female Board Chair, and I’d like to see more women and more diversity represented in healthcare IT leadership. It’s very important to me.
Can you talk about some of the new initiatives for CHIME?
Townsend: There have been quite a few announcements recently, one of them of course being the partnership with HLTH. We also have some new education opportunities with both a Master and a Doctor of Digital Healthcare. That’s incredibly exciting. It’s been many years in the making.
And of course, we’re staying very committed to our roots. CHIME has been instrumental to the healthcare IT delivery system for a long time, and we’ll continue to do so as we develop, grow, and advance these new strategies.
You mentioned attending Boot Camp and participating in other CHIME offerings. Have you had mentors along the way?
Townsend: Yes, both formally and informally. I did establish a formal mentoring relationship with another CIO that had a structured format with routine meetings. We developed a great relationship; I still stay in touch with him to this day. That probably goes all the way back to around 2006.
It’s also the informal networking where you meet people at different events and find shoulders to lean on and ears to listen when you’re trying to solve a particular challenge. It’s been wonderful to have that network of resources — not just on the CHIME member side with other CIOs, but also the Foundation side where firms are helping us solve today’s challenges.
Can you talk a bit more about what CHIME is doing — and what you hope to do — to help promote equity and diversity in leadership positions?
Townsend: I do think it’s important to step back and reflect on how far we’ve come in healthcare IT. I can very much recall several instances where I was the only woman in the room, or one of just a handful of women. I’ve very fortunate to continue to advance as a woman in healthcare. But at the same time, I don’t want to forget that it’s still a challenge.
We do have scholarships available, and so I encourage others to take advantage of those and to not become intimidated or discouraged. We know that to be successful, we need diverse opinions and diverse experiences represented.
Finally, as the pandemic begins to abate, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on everything that has happened. What are your thoughts there?
Townsend: The pandemic taught us a lot. It definitely shined a light on healthcare IT; we were looked upon to solve problems almost immediately. It highlighted the fact that we did, thankfully, have a foundation in place, since many of us had been more working on implementing EHRs for past decade or so. We were able to leverage that foundation with initiatives like telemedicine and virtual care, as well as setting up testing and vaccination units. The immediate response was incredible.
Going forward, I think the focus is going to be on keeping that flexibility and that agile mentality. We can’t take years to implement solutions. We need to move as quickly as possible and really leverage the investments many of us have already made in tools like EHRs for things like analytics and additional capabilities.
Another focus is going to be on clinician efficiency. We’re facing shortages, especially on the nursing side. How do we use tools like AI and digital learning to help automate features that can relieve some of the stress on our clinicians? And I think we’ve seen that hybrid and remote work is here to stay, and so, having tools to support that safely will continue to be a challenge for many years to come.
Lastly, because of this virtual way in which we’re living, I think patients have a lot more control over what they expect. They want a smooth, seamless, easy experience — not just for scheduling appointments, but having immediate access to their records, whether that’s through patient portals or telemedicine. That’s definitely here to stay too.
I’ve been in the industry for around 20 years. Early in my career, we talked about how the EMR was right around the corner and it was going to be a great thing in the next year or so. We’ve been working on that for 20 years.
And so, it’s good that we started that journey, and we have a lot of foundational tools in place, but we can’t afford another 20 years. It’s going to have to be much faster paced as we move past the pandemic.