Healthcare systems racing to fill CIO positions with 'right talent'

By Patty Enrado
09:22 AM

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is a major contributor in the spike in CIO recruitments at hospitals and healthcare systems, according to a national executive search expert.

"ARRA's requirements for the incentives are bringing it (the importance of the CIO position) to the forefront of hospital boards and administrations," said Linda Hodges, vice president of health information technology practice leader for Witt/Kieffer. "We've seen more searches for CIOs in the healthcare industry now than in the last 15 years."

Hospitals and integrated delivery systems, or IDNs, are hiring for a position above the person who has been running their IT. In the past, the person in charge of IT at healthcare organizations has not been a part of the executive management team and did not report to the CEO. The reporting structure is changing, with the CIO positions that are being advertised, Hodges said. Now they are part of the executive management team and report to the CEO or the COO, she said.

While clients are open to looking for CIOs in other industries, the short-list candidates "almost always have healthcare backgrounds" because of the focus on clinical initiatives, Hodges said. The industry is seeing those in the clinical ranks transitioning into IT.

Clinicians - physicians, nurses or other healthcare professionals - more often than not develop an IT career path because of their involvement with and resulting passion for an IT implementation in their organization, she said. Most learn on the job and then get an advanced degree in clinical systems. The No. 2 person in a larger organization's IT department is also providing new talent in the industry, she said.

The majority of CIO searches are coming from hospitals and IDNs. Vendors and consulting firms, however, are also hiring CIOs and then outsourcing them as interim CIOs to their provider clients or hiring CIOs to oversee client management in a firm's business development and marketing departments.

"The market is competitive for good people, particularly those who have experience with EHR implementations and vendors," Hodges said. With more visibility and "a lot of money" tied to the position, it's no wonder CIO searches are generating a lot of interest from prospective candidates.

The bottom line, Hodges said, "Organizations are looking for the right talent, the right horsepower, to lead them the next few years."

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