Does your hospital need a chief mobility officer?

A new report from Forrester Research revived a question I haven't heard asked recently--but one that clearly needs a re-visit: Do hospitals need a chief mobility officer? That is, a top-level executive to investigate, plan, implement and manage a hospital's mobile strategy.

The question was largely premised on the idea that mobile technologies are evolving so fast that if you don't put one empowered individual in charge, you're going to fall behind.

Computerworld report on the Forrester research noted that the authors called smartphones and tablets "the manifestation of a much broader shift to new systems of engagement ... [with] customers, partners and employees.

"To remain vital in this business technology reformation, CIOs must step up and work with other executives to establish an office of the chief mobility officer to implement an enterprise-wide mobile strategy," the authors added.

The researchers promised big benefits to those who heeded their warning. Organizations that engage a CMO, they said, will "1) Fuel profitable growth with stickier offerings and mobile self-service; 2) move faster along the mobile learning curve; 3) aggregate mobile project budgets to fund needed engagement technology; and 4) grow from an IT group focused on systems of record to a business technology group focused on systems of engagement."

But the Forrester report didn't specifically target healthcare--rather, it was aimed at businesses across the board, particularly in service-oriented or retail markets. I wondered if the same urgency, and immediacy, were appropriate for healthcare, which is moving fast but certainly not as fast as many retail or commercial organizations (i.e., Starbucks, Citibank, Walgreens, etc.) on the mobile front. I checked in with some healthcare CIOs to see if the message resonated with them, and might prompt them to start head-hunting this spring.

The answers were pretty evenly divided. For some, a chief mobility officer would only create another unnecessary level of management that could actually slow adoption and isolate mobility projects at a time when they need to be fully integrated with initiatives, such as electronic health records.

"Mobility is just the next phase of technology," Todd Richardson, CIO with Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Ind., told FierceMobileHealthcare. "We didn't have a chief mainframe officer, or a chief client-server officer, nor a chief thin-client officer. As technology progresses, the role of the chief information officer evolves."

Dale Potter, CIO at The Ottawa Hospital, agreed, noting that despite having 3000-plus iPads in circulation, mobility isn't a separate silo that requires separate management.

"For us this is a new disruptive technology, but even with our significant deployment [it] does not warrant an officer status," he said. "In my mind C-level officer positions are linked to annual results and board level risks."

On the other hand, I found at least two facilities that are in the process of--or already have--created just such a position. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is sketching out some possibilities, driven by worries of security risks, the pace of technology growth and other concerns, according to CIO John Halamka.

"We have 1,200 iPads and 1,600 iPhones in clinical use at BIDMC. Managing the security, policies, server side support, education, and training requires a dedicated team," Halamka told FMHC. "We are considering the addition of a professional dedicated to the strategy and support of mobile devices. We did the same thing at BIDMC when wireless technology was introduced in our two million square feet of buildings--we hired a dedicated spectrum manager in clinical engineering and a dedicated wireless manager in IT."

At Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, CIO Edward Marx already has created a "real-time health analyst" position, dedicated to mobility issues and mobile apps in particular, reporting to the chief medical information officer and the chief technology officer. Marx said he's considering whether the position needs to be moved up the IT food chain.

The analysts' "primary responsibilities are centered on strategy related to mobility and mobile apps," Marx told FMHC. "I think it helps to give someone plenty of rope to explore possibilities, inform direction and make recommendations. We will see how it goes and elevate the authority as needed to meet business requirements."

Still others, like Steven Dean, telemedicine director for Inova Health Systems in Northern Virginia, see the CMO position as possible, but not yet necessary. Right now, with most hospital deployments in the pilot or test phase, he doesn't see the need yet for a top-level executive, although eventually a "director-level" position may make sense he said.

Whatever hospitals choose to do, Dean's biggest prediction for the entire issue was one that I completely agreed with: "It will be a pivotal year for [mobile] development," he said. - Sara