CKO emerges amid healthcare data explosion

By Bernie Monegain
09:33 AM

Coders aren't just coders anymore. With the conversion to ICD-10 -- and all that entails -- set to take place by Oct. 1, 2013, a new career path is emerging. Enter the chief knowledge officer.

It is a course that was the talk the 83rd Annual AHIMA Convention & Exhibit Oct. 1-6 in Salt Lake City. It is driven not only by the prospect of ICD-10 just around the corner, but also by the increasingly critical role data is playing in clinical decisions and outcomes. As that data is converted to information and knowledge, it becomes more valuable and so do the people responsible for it.

[See also AHIMA11: Twitter recap.]

Add to that the fact that there is a shortage of coders, with many planning to retire soon, and health information managers can expect the work to change dramatically, speaker after speaker said, in one way or another, at the AHIMA event.

“Chief knowledge officer (CKO) is an emerging role we are beginning to see,” Cindy Zak, director of health information and privacy officer at Milford Hospital in Milford, Conn., told her audience at the convention

Zak, who spoke on a panel about EHR innovations, said healthcare is experiencing an “information explosion.”

“What are we going to with all this information?” she asked. “How are we going to use it to innovate? There is a need for someone to champion the use of information.” She proffered that when meaning is applied to data, it becomes information. And when information is shared, it becomes knowledge that can be applied to an end – treating a patient.

Many large companies – Hallmark, Dow and Shell, for example, have knowledge programs, she noted. So should hospitals.

Enter the CKO.

As Zak sees it, the CIO acquires, implements and fixes technology. The CKO is an entrepreneur, a change agent -- using data to make better, more targeted and timely treatment possible.

“The CKO needs to report to the CEO,” Zak said. “You need a clear proposition. You need a knowledge management program. You need visionary leadership."

[See also: Slideshow: Ready or not, ICD-10 is here.]

Sandra Nunn, principal of KAMC Consulting, another member of the panel, agreed that data would become more valuable as healthcare mined it for increasingly targeted information -- and it would require a high level of skills to manage.

“Who talked about metadata five years ago?” she asked.

Nunn also suggested that many industries are becoming less hierarchal, and so would healthcare.

“We’re moving into a collaborative way -- not the top suite down,” she said. “That’s what’s going to happen in our own world in HIM. We’re going to be a team model.”

The expectations for HIM professionals are increasing along with the growing volume of data, Nunn said,

“HIM professionals will have to be skilled at managing HIM information inside their organization, she said, but also in the cloud because the information will not stop at the edge of your organization."

At 3M, developers are touting an automated way of coding -- or at least an auto-suggested method. The idea, says JaeLynn Williams, senior vice president, marketing and client operations is to free up coders to do more valuable work, such as auditing and reviewing for accuracy for a better impact on the healthcare system. Incidentally, she points out, the scenario is similar to what occurred in accounting long ago.

“HIM departments are really production focused today,” she said. Williams advocates taking the rote work off the table -- the better to focus on getting life-saving information to the right place at the right time.

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