By Nick Giannas, Senior Associate, Witt/Kieffer
As part of National Health IT Week (this week, Sept. 16 to 20), HIMSS is encouraging professionals and observers in the field to blog about the following question: What’s the value of health IT?
In a way, it’s a trick question. There is obvious value. Or rather, IT is invaluable in that it affects all areas across the continuum of healthcare; it enables the continuum, in fact. IT is central to moving forward with reform, with new payment and delivery systems, and into a more integrated, coordinated healthcare environment. How can you be more integrated if you don’t have integrated technology environments?
The real question is, why aren’t all healthcare organizations realizing this value—or enough value? Any experienced IT professional will tell you that the true value of software and systems can only be extracted by people—smart, talented people who understand the technology and how it can make their organization better.
As an executive recruiter, I’m in the people business. From my perspective, the value of IT has to be realized at the top, in the C-Suite. Thus the key figure in getting organizations to find value—and hopefully exceptional value—is the CIO.
The New Healthcare CIO
The CIOs who are succeeding today—that is, realizing IT’s value—are those whose skill sets go beyond what IT executives were expected to do in the past. The new healthcare CIO must:
- Think strategically and operationally. CIOs are valued for their technical expertise as well as vision these days. The key consideration they must address is how to align IT with the organization’s business goals and needs. If they can do this, they provide a major competitive advantage.
- Be a team leader. The CIO must coalesce people into a cohesive, high-performing unit. With a more strategic CIO, often it’s others on the team who have the most technical expertise. Savvy healthcare CIOs will comment that they hire people who are “smarter than me.” So today’s leader isn’t necessarily the person who knows it all, but one who can solicit input from others and bring everyone together towards common goals.
- Recruit and hire well. Related to the above, you’re only as good as people you surround yourself with. The CIO must have an eye for talent and take a long-term, proactive approach to identifying, developing and retaining the right staff to meet the organization’s current and future IT challenges.
- Claim a seat at the table. Because IT affects, and integrates, all areas and functions of the organization, the healthcare CIO must be at the decision-making table when discussions about strategy, investments, new construction and infrastructure expansion, and all other critical issues are taking place. This includes a health system’s efforts in regards to becoming an accountable care organization—the CIO has to exert influence if organizations are really going to adopt an ACO model, improve quality care and outcomes, and lower costs.
- Be driven and passionate, especially about how IT affects medicine and healthcare. The CIO has to have those moments where he or she says, “Wow, this system can actually transform how healthcare is provided and make a difference in people’s lives!”
The value of health IT starts with people and is realized when patients’ lives are made better—through higher-quality and less expensive care. The CIO must be a leader on this quest and, within his or her organization, the champion of value.