Rethinking leadership in health IT

Pressure to innovate is on as healthcare
By Pamela Dixon
12:00 AM

Atlanta based, SSi-SEARCH, a firm focused on the recruitment of health IT leadership, surveyed more than 200 CIOs and CMIOs to get specific on what's working and what's not working for these two power players in the health IT landscape.
The business of healing is not new, but the way it is being managed is being looked at with fresh eyes. Patients as consumers of healthcare will likely be concerned with more than a comfortable hospital stay. They may be choosing their healthcare providers based on the results they are delivering. Healthcare will look at new ways to impact quality and new ways to get that information to consumers. Technology may be the engine to help drive the innovation healthcare needs as the industry rethinks how to create a new value proposition.
We see growing demands placed on CIOs and, as a result, we are seeing surrounding leadership roles in the health IT space emerging and growing in importance. This includes chief information security officer and the chief technology officer. A new role that has become key to accomplishing health IT initiatives is that of the chief medical information officer.
In its commitment to understand how industry trends are shaping the interaction between the two roles, SSi-SEARCH surveyed more than 100 CIOs, in collaboration with CHIME, and more than 80 CMIOs, in collaboration with AMDIS, asking the same set of questions for both CIOs and CMIOs.
First and foremost, more than 90 percent of both groups agree: the CMIO is here to stay. In doing so, it facilitates the process of establishing structure around the role, including reporting structure, budget, reports, and a more defined career path.
A resounding number of CIO respondents, 95 percent, stated that the CMIO has helped them in achieving their objectives. Perhaps more importantly, 66 percent responded they "could not have accomplished their objectives within the same timeline without a CMIO".
In general, we have seen a correction in the industry that speaks to the lack of clinicians that had served as part of the IT team. In the world of executive search, we have worked through this shift by connecting and maintaining contact with those emerging in the field of clinical informatics. Leveraging social media tools early on, SSi-SEARCH hosts what is now the largest group of clinical informatics leaders on LinkedIn, with well over 3,000 appropriately titled members.
The surveys, conducted by SSi-SEARCH in the third quarter of 2012, also reveal that CMIO hires have increased since HITECH, underlining the impact of the HITECH act on health IT leadership very clearly.
While this has been necessary to meet meaningful use deadlines, it makes sense for quality focused healthcare systems to embed clinical thinking into the IT process. The need to continuously improve quality of care likely will not diminish and neither will the demand for strong clinical leaders within IT. Perhaps the most important finding of the survey rests in the fact that only 40 percent of the CIO respondents reported their organization has a full time CMIO but more than 90 percent said the role should be permanent.
As important as the clinician view is to IT, there is still work to do in figuring out how to retool IT teams and, more specifically, how to make room for the CMIO. The comments from the survey were prolific from both groups. CMIOs echo a concern for growing the structure of the role with increased reports and a budget, not just a face to the physicians.
Comments from CMIOs around structure for the role, frequently cited, included:
• "Make the CMIO position one that is operational - with a defined team and budget."
• "Establish administrative support for the process of clinical transformation"
While the surveys show there is still work to do in blending the IT world with the clinical world, the value is not in question.
Pamela Dixon is founder and managing partner of SSI-Search - With 20 years of direct experience in healthcare, Dixon founded the firm on the principle that a direct understanding of the healthcare IT industry would produce superior results in executive search.