It makes sense that the chief medical information officer – the CMIO – is stepping center stage to take a key role in the drama that is healthcare. These days, information – and how it is gathered, cut and diced, examined this way and that, moved around and retrieved – has become more critical than ever. The techie-doc role may not seem all that glamorous. But couldn’t you imagine one of those TV docs in the role? Say a Clooney, or a McDreamy? Or, better yet, the acerbic Dr. House.
The reality is that the role of CMIO is serious, trying and stressful. Many CMIOs continue to practice medicine. Eric Hartz, MD, for example, has a 50 percent oncology practice. As he puts it, “it’s very busy.” He spends the rest of his time on CMIO work. On paper, that may be three days a week. In reality, he tends to work seven days a week.
Hospitals and health systems today are hurrying to qualify for federal incentives attached to the meaningful use of health IT. They stand to forfeit millions of dollars if they don’t make the government deadlines. So suddenly the work of the CMIO – much of it having to do with getting the doctors, the administrators and the IT team on the same page when it comes to rolling out IT projects – is held in especially high regard.
Organizations that have CMIOs want to retain them. Those that don’t have them on staff want to recruit them. There are not enough to go around.
So executives of hospitals and health systems will have to get creative. They’ll have to dig deep. Perhaps they should look in-house first and to the past for inspiration.
Hartz, in Maine, and William Bria, MD, CMIO at Shriners Hospital for Children, with 22 hospitals across the country, began their work in informatics in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when the field was perhaps perceived as a nerdy endeavor. Both benefitted from working with CIOs that recognized the value of engaging physicians in the tech realm.
For Hartz, it was Devore Culver at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine. For Bria, it was Richard Rydell at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. Bria was eager to be involved, and when Rydell arrived at Baystate, he was on the same wavelength. He had already directed the implementation of the first successful hospital-wide medical information system at El Camino Hospital in California in 1973. He knew from the get-go that he wanted physicians involved. Bria had been waiting for the opportunity.
“We suggested to the medical staff that they don’t criticize what we are doing,” Rydell, then CIO of Baystate Medical Center, told CIO Magazine in June 1988, “but (that they) plan information systems for their use and the hospital’s use.”
In Maine, Culver, who today heads the state’s health information exchange project, tapped Hartz to help him with a small pilot project in the early ‘80s, and then recruited him as CMIO because he recognized that IT programs needed to be physician-led.
As Rydell and Culver did then, imagine now what will be required for the future. Engage the physicians, as those visionaries of the 1980s were inclined to do. And don’t forget the patient. We are looking at the role of healthcare information and technology 30 years after some of the first IT systems were rolled out. What will our healthcare organizations look like 30 years from now?
Notwithstanding the continuing rise of chronic diseases, we know patients today want more than an all-knowing doctor to prescribe a pill that will make the pain go away. They want to be involved in staying healthy and fit – or becoming so. They want to know their medical data. They want access to their medical record. They want to be on their own care team. They want to be consulted. They are eager to use new technology.
No matter what Dr. House might say, they have to be central – in a way they have never been before – to any new plan for transforming what most agree is a struggling healthcare system.