CMIO: The patient advocate

SSi-SEARCH takes stock of changing CMIO role
By Steve Nilsen
10:35 AM
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With one foot in clinical care and the other in technology, chief medical information officers are well positioned as information technology is perhaps one of the most important strategic levers to advance the triple aim of healthcare.

CMIOs know they need to add skills and gain more exposure to advance the role and their careers, but the most important driver for CMIOs (68 percent) is improving patient care.

This is based on the findings of the annual CMIO study by SSI-SEARCH, with detailed responses from more than 220 executives carrying CMIO responsibilities. Retained, executive search firm, SSi-SEARCH continues to track and monitor the evolution of this role since the firm’s launch, 10 years ago.

Over the past several years, beginning with HITECH, we have observed some important changes to the CMIO role. First, finding their place in the C-Suite and, now, we find the role gaining traction as a strategic resource.

"Increased exposure” is the most prominent answer to the question: “What would facilitate greater strategic involvement with key executives?” Respondents display self-awareness with the understanding that to accomplish this, they need “improved operational skills” (budget and resources) and “improved understanding of the business side” of the health system and improved involvement with other key executives. Overall, almost 73 percent stated they are highly or routinely engaged with key executives to “determine how or what technologies can be used to help achieve the strategic goals of the organization.”

CMIOs rank the CMO as the most critical executive to achieving their own objectives. The CMO was selected by 77 percent of respondents, followed by the CIO, at 69 percent. There is a sharp drop to the next preferred choice, the CEO, with 30 percent selecting him or her as critical.  “Other systems CMIOs and CNO round out the top-five list.

When talking about challenges to accomplish objectives, recurring themes include the lack of a budget and team, which ranks highest, with 31 percent selecting it, and 23 percent selecting the lack of strategic engagement with key leaders.  Timeline rounds out the top three challenges.

As CMIOs continue to augment expertise to secure their permanent seat at “the table” the skill they view as most important is greater expertise in data analytics. Second and third skills they want to acquire are operations/management skills and revenue cycle expertise. Clearly, there is a desire in CMIOs to complement their clinical skills with business skills to advance their careers. To acquire these skills, they plan to establish key partnerships vs. adding degrees or certifications.

A passion for the mission is ever-present – 68 percent of CMIOs say they would most like to be recognized for “creating improved patient safety/quality care through the use of technology.”  Supporting the anecdotal observations of CMIOs as having a creative and innovative bent, they express that following “patient safety and quality care” they would like to be recognized for “bringing innovative technologies to the organization.”

We also asked CMIOs if their accomplishments were important and if they were recognized. While half say their accomplishments were “critically important” to the strategic mission of the organization and another 40 percent say it was “very important” only 30 percent say the organization has recognized them for their accomplishments. 

"This is an important finding,” states Pamela Dixon, managing partner for the fSSi-Search, “as recognition helps drive innovation.  Awards can be pivotal in creating awareness,” Dixon added, “SSi-SEARCH is honored to sponsor the AMIA Provider Innovation in Informatics (Pi²) Award (“the pie award” for short).  This is a chance to shine a light on important innovative work being done by providers and their teams.”  AMIA will announce the finalists at the upcoming iHealth Conference in Boston on May 28 and 29.

As we look to the future career path of CMIOs we found that more than half, 57 percent, of CMIOs would like greater responsibilities. For those considering a change, CMIOs were most interested in a transition to the role of Chief Transformation Officer at 30 percent. CMO followed at 25 percent and CIO rounded out the top three with 18 percent.

According to the survey, CMIOs have a passion for what they do and want to keep doing it.  Right now they are looking to add skills and resources, to have a greater, positive impact. 

This is the third article in a series of three based on SSI-SEARC 2014 Annual Healthcare Survey.

The other articles are: