Will CHIOs become more common?

ONC lends credence to emerging C-suite role
By Tom Sullivan
08:00 AM
Doctors illustration

In what may be taken as validation of the nascent chief health information officer role, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT on Wednesday named its first CHIO.

Exactly what that title means, however, is still coming into its own.

[See also: New position, new face at ONC]

John Showalter, MD, CHIO at University of Mississippi Medical Center, even confessed in November that when people ask what his professional title means, “I don't have a good answer other than making sure we get a return on investments."

[See also: Chief data officers come to healthcare]

That points to just how new and emerging this position is.

When National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD, appointed Michael James McCoy, MD to ONC’s new CHIO post, she mapped out some duties in a memo to ONC staff.

"Mike will lead development of ONC clinical policy for standards and regulatory matters to help ensure ONC initiatives improve health beyond health care," she wrote. "He will also be the lead clinical subject matter expert on interoperability."

[Innovation Pulse: Can tech titan's platforms foster an ecosystem of IT advancement?]

That’s a job worthy of a CXO title, in other words – perhaps something of a mashup of the roles played by former ONC chief medical officer and deputy national coordinator Jacob Reider, MD, with that of chief scientist and interoperability guru Doug Fridsma, MD.

Interestingly enough, Reider’s predecessor in the deputy national coordinator role, David Muntz, reportedly called publicly for ONC to name a CHIO.

"In medicine there used to be one position called doctor," Muntz said in an article in U.S. News and World Report. "Similarly, it was once possible for the CIO to understand everything going on with data."

That's no longer the case. Muntz said the CHIO role should be less clinical and more administrative than the traditional chief medical information officer.

"It's not just about diagnosing things,” Muntz added, “but figuring out what questions to ask." The example U.S. News pointed to: grappling with how to harness data and the impact that could have on patients.

And adding another twist to the CHIO role? The inclusion of a slightly different word as the "i" in that acronym: informatics.

One definition of a chief health informatics officer, according to a HIMSS15 session description about the careers, involves the words “strategic physician leadership of informatics, analytics and value realization.”

Regardless of what the "i” stands for, both versions of the CHIO appear to be growing in popularity.

Whether they’ll one day be as common as CIOs, CMIOs and CTOs, only time will tell.

[See also: CNIO position on the rise]

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