CHIME CEO: How health IT can save the economy

Although increasing membership and bolstering public policy efforts are top of mind for newly named College of Healthcare Information Management Executives CEO Russell Branzell, he has loftier goals for the organization--and the health IT industry.

"We have a duty and an obligation to help transform healthcare through the application of HIT," Branzell (right) told FierceHealthIT in an exclusive interview.

"On an even more macro level, HIT, by saving healthcare, will be responsible for saving our national economy. That might sound grandiose, but I really think I need to take my role that seriously."

In this exclusive interview with FierceHealthIT, Branzell, CEO of Fort Collins, Colo.-based Colorado Health Medical Group, and George Hickman, CHIME board chairman and CIO at Albany (New York) Medical Center, talked about CHIME's role in making that happen, as well as in meeting the needs of its current constituents. 

FierceHealthIT: What do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing healthcare CIOs?

Branzell: There's not any one thing. Rather, it's the amount and pace of change. CIOs don't have the time to spend to really focus on one thing.

Think about all of these challenges: Meaningful Use Stages 1, 2 and 3; accountable care organizations; ICD-10; population health; big data management; security and privacy changes. Never mind just the amount of day-to-day updates and changes that hit their portfolio of applications, which in many cases can be hundreds to thousands. And that's just within their own ecosystem.

Then you add to the fact that CIOs now have become the catalysts and the directors for local exchange of information, all while trying to run good organizations. The time demands are incredible. 

Hickman (left): Here's a case example: As I've addressed ICD-10 at Albany Medical Center, and am bringing my organization into compliance, I've found that there is between 70 and 80 vendor based package applications that we will have to remediate to be ICD-10 ready. At the same time that we're doing that, we'll have to be working with government agencies, clearinghouses and the payers to make sure that all of them are ready, so when everything gets turned on, it all cooperates and works the way that it's supposed to.

Then, consider that our entire clinical workforce--in our case we've got about a 7,000-person workforce at Albany Medical Center--has to be trained to the new code sets.

That's just one thing that we've got going on. We're doing all of that at the same time we're sustaining Meaningful Use Stage 1 levels and moving to Stage 2 levels, as well as undertaking construction programs and looking at affiliations with other provider organizations.

FHIT: How do you plan on addressing those needs?

Branzell: We want to make sure that we go from being very reactive with regard to public policy to being very proactive. We want to be involved with the development of policy in Washington, and start driving some of the change instead of waiting for a policy law or a first draft to come out to start to reacting to it.

We want to provide the tools and the ability to leapfrog our CIOs into these processes.

FHIT: What are your immediate plans for the organization?

Branzell: I'm getting involved with key stakeholders in Washington and key states where they have initiatives going on, so there's going to be a jump right into the deep end almost immediately. I'm also working with groups like the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, as well as with other partners, such as the Bipartisan Policy Committee, on issues such as patient safety.

Also, some of our partner associations and professional societies in the HIT space are very siloed in terms of the work they're doing. One of our goals is to serve as that catalyst to glue all of those efforts together.

FHIT: How do you see CHIME evolving?

Branzell: We want to start working at some of those levels of care that historically have not been part of the core CHIME membership, like rural areas and secondary levels of care. Those CIOs have not been a part of that process. Our core has been very hospital-based, medium to large academic hospitals, for the most part

Down the line, I'd like to see us be the predominant health IT professional society that meets the needs of CIOs, and really beyond that, the HIT community. I want to make sure that we are the trusted voice from an executive HIT leadership perspective, to help guide, direct and even proactively develop the things that are needed for our industry. I would love to see it said that HIT--and specifically CHIME--was one of the major contributing factors in helping to save healthcare.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and for clarity.

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