When should your hospital consider hiring an apps director?

A couple of months ago, I was mulling over the question of whether hospitals need a "chief mobility officer." I found my audience divided, and the ultimate answer was a hesitant "maybe."

So I was surprised to see yet another suggestion that hospital IT groups need another type of manager as mHealth continues its rapid-fire growth. This time, blogger EJ Fechenda of Healthcare IT News laid out an emerging job description that I found intriguing: a Director of Applications.

"What exactly does a Director of Applications do?" Fechenda asks. "The Director of Applications is responsible for the development and implementation of information technology applications [clinical, business, etc.] as well as providing analysis and programming activities to improve business processes."

I was struck most by the idea that applications development was a separate, unique activity within the IT department, so much so that it requires its own command structure. Most of the CIOs I talk with who are in the app-development business generally use a designated team to build the app, but don't create an entire infrastructure for the effort. And when the app is complete, a skeleton crew stay on to manage it, but the managers move on to new projects/initiatives.

Then I found an interesting brief about a director of applications being hired earlier this year by Southcoast Hospital Group in Wareham, Mass. And his job description clearly put him in charge of the applications, or forward-facing side of the hospital's systems, including "internal software development to augment the core applications and IT systems used across Southcoast Hospitals."

So, do all hospitals need an applications director? I'd say no, unless you're in the business of creating in-house developed apps, software or interfaces on a rather large scale--like that of the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic. Edward Marx, CIO of Texas Health Resources, agrees, saying that the size of the app development effort is key to the need for additional management.

"It depends on size of organization. There is a break point where such a director is required, especially in a best of breed environment," he tells FierceMobileHealthcare.

Or if you're looking to make or save a major amount of cash with a particular software system or app--as Ottawa Hospital CIO Dale Potter told us in the CMO-debate in February--top-level positions in IT should be responsible for helping meet annual revenue, or other major organizational goals.

But I'd like to hear from you. IT departments are evolving almost as quickly as mobile technology, so a discussion of the right organizational structure is just about due.

What do you think? Is there not only "an app for that," but an "an app director for that," too? - Sara