Fierce exclusive: The changing role of the healthcare CIO

Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series on the changing role of health IT leaders. In the first part of this exclusive interview, board members discussed how CHIME has changed since its inception 20 years ago. In part two, they talked about how technology enables new care models. Here, they discuss the changing roles and responsibilities of healthcare CIOs.

At the College of Information Management Executives fall forum, held last week in Indian Wells, Calif., I met with the member organization's three newest board members to discuss the changing role of CHIME and in other areas of healthcare and health IT. 

In today's excerpt from the interview, Pamela Arora, vice president and CIO of Children's Medical Center in Dallas; George McClulloch, Jr., associate director and deputy CIO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.; and Charles Christian, CIO of Good Samaritan Hospital in southwest Indiana talk about the changing roles and responsibilities of today's healthcare CIO.

FierceHealthIT: How has the role of healthcare CIO changed? What are the new requirements and areas of responsibility?

George McCulloch, Jr.: In the past, we were installing and learning about patient accounting systems and other operational things. And now we're in the thick of clinical practice and genetics. 

The business needs to go there. It's dramatically changed.

Charles Christian (right): Once you move into this senior leadership role, it's going to be more about how to make the business successful in a variety of areas. And your vocabulary gets much broader. When you're talking to physicians and other clinical staff, particularly if you've got a research arm in your organization, or you're out talking to the home healthcare agencies and nursing homes.

It's no longer about just what happens within the four walls of your organization or in your physician practices. You've got to be out in the community and aware of what's taking place. Those patients are going to hit your service market and if you're not prepared you're going to be absorbing more expense.

It's CIO 2.0. Those who can't make the transition won't be employed.

Pamela Arora (left): As such, many times the CIO has different functions reporting into him. In my case I have the medical records department and I have biomedical. It helps with integration.

I know other CIOs are also taking on ancillary areas such as lab and radiology. It does change the footprint and become not only the horizontal support of IT but an aspect of being able to take on operations in other areas. 

McCulloch: Everything's automated now, so there's a lot more under our purview. Before, we had clinical systems and physiological monitoring doing their own things. Now it's data everywhere.

As architects of that process, we have to help the organization decide how they're going to use that. Pharmacy's huge. We manage a lot of the pharmacy components, because of the materials, but also for patient safety. So we do barcode and med administration--that has to work all the time.

Christian: You're going to be involved either directly or indirectly. You have to manage that and learn to be collaborative. If you're not, then you're going to be siloed out. You're not going to be viewed as a business partner, whether you're a revenue-producing department or not.

Aurora: Another change is the SAS, or software as a service, model, hosting other organizations. And that's a different slant on things than just supporting the organization from within.

McCulloch (right): I think we're going to get a lot more involved--and it's started already--on the whole physiological decision-support piece. Now we know a lot more about the patient, such as genomics. What role do we play to provide that? What patient safety issues do we have? What data-mining do we need to support the business with in terms of analytics? And then there are the tools to help clinicians do the right thing for the right patient every time.

As we focus on quality, we're going to be asked to do more and more. 



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