HIMSS CIO of the Year: IT more critical than ever

By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM

Timothy R. Zoph is vice president of information services and chief information officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He is being honored at the 2004 HIMSS conference with the John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year Award. Zoph serves on several advisory committees in the healthcare industry. He has led an initiative to form the Healthcare Sector Coordinating Council with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health & Human Services.

How has the role of the healthcare CIO changed over the 20 years you've been in the healthcare industry?

I've seen the role change dramatically. For the CIO, there has been a rapid rise from a manager of technology to a member of the senior executive team enabling critical changes in the healthcare system. The position of CIO has really grown in importance and stature, and along with that, there's a growing sense of responsibility and leadership. The changes have been the most dramatic over the past five years. Information technology is now at the core to achieving a new vision for our healthcare system. It's very exciting, but very daunting at the same time.

What do you view as the primary mission of today's CIO?

The CIO has to lead the organization through this fundamental change that is occurring, be clear about what technology can accomplish and be part of the team that defines the new healthcare system. A key component of this job is recruiting and developing the next generation of information technology leaders. Also, CIOs need to be leaders in their own right - recognized leaders in the senior management team.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity for healthcare information technology today?

There's no question that information technology will enable the healthcare system to realize dramatic improvements in patient safety and quality of care. The challenge is before us, and the industry is now embracing these tools.

In addition, consumerism will be a force for change in healthcare. Patients will be empowered with knowledge and personal health information. I believe healthcare will see the rise in consumer expectations as in other service industries.

Greatest obstacle?

How fast can we change? Technology is increasingly more available and more mature. Changing the system, changing our culture - some of it simply takes time because it's so fundamental. Lack of resources and standards are also an obstacle. Technology and institutional change are expensive. That's why it's important to seek assistance from the federal government. Change will occur. Our issue is will this occur fast enough.

Which one of your achievements as CIO gives you the most satisfaction and pride?

At Northwestern Memorial over the last decade, we have been realizing the vision of our hospital through new facilities. We opened a 2 million square-foot healthcare facility in 1999. As a CIO, being able to have the vision of IT implemented within a state-of-the-art facility has been one of the highlights of my career. The new facility includes a filmless radiology system and point-of-service patient flow. We have built a facility that will enable our vision for creating the Best Patient Experience. Our vision continues with the planning and construction of a new Prentice Women's Hospital to open in 2007.

What is your best advice to other CIOs?

This is a great profession that is poised to enable fundamental changes in our industry. I feel that I'm doing the most important work in my career. If you're not a CIO, consider becoming one. If you are one, train one to become a leader.

Timothy Zoph, CIO of the year

Vice president of information services and chief information officer

Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago

Years in position:

Years in healthcare:


BS, University of Utah; MS in accounting, Georgetown University; MBA, J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University.

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