Health care CIOs balance innovation and keeping the lights on
February 26, 2019

What’s it like to be a chief information officer in today’s ever-changing health care landscape? In a few words: “exciting,” “disruptive,” “fun,” a “roller coaster.”

Four CHIME Speakers Bureau faculty CIOs – Michael Archuleta, Theresa Meadows, Daniel Nigrin and Tressa Springmann – shared advice, experiences and thoughts on what’s ahead for the role during two booth sessions hosted by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives at HIMSS19. The CIOs touched on several top-of-mind topics, including:

Technology’s increasing role

Nigrin, senior vice president for information services and CIO of Boston Children’s Hospital, said he couldn’t remember a time “where there has been so much excitement and so much new and disruptive” technology. “We’re right at the crossroads of all that new and exciting stuff,” he said.

The pace of change is “accelerating in a big way,” Nigrin pointed out, and CIOs must keep abreast.

CIOs are expected to understand and keep up with what’s happening in the industry and be able to explain – and sometimes pitch – new technology to their health care organizations, said Springmann, senior vice president and CIO of Baltimore-based LifeBridge Health. She added that CIOs must ensure their teams are aware of emerging technologies and not “locked down on their legacy support roles.”

Organizational alignment

Information technology and management are no longer just “an IT problem,” Nigrin said. The decisions are now organization-wide. So, how do CIOs get everyone on board? It’s all about understanding the culture of your organization, the speakers said. Is leadership comfortable with taking chances, or risk-averse? Are they ready to dive into new technology, or just dip their toes in? How much are they willing to spend? Nigrin said most health care organizations “are lucky” if they allocate 5% of their annual operating budgets to IT.

“Not everything is one size fits all,” Springmann said.

How do CIOs prioritize, then? Nigrin and Meadows, senior vice president and CIO of Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, cited the importance of their organizations’ governance boards in helping guide health IT decisions.

Nigrin said his governance board helps Children’s Hospital decide “whether Project A is more important than Project B if I’ve only got enough resources for one of them,” adding that it’s difficult because “there are no unimportant projects anymore.”

Archuleta, CIO and HIPAA & information security officer at Trinidad, Colo.-based Mt. San Rafael Hospital, said it is vital that CIOs help foster a culture of digitalization within their organizations in light of the shifting landscape.

As the role of technology in health care increases, so must IT budgets, Nigrin said.

“If we do really want to catch up to the rest of the world and improve functionality, we have to invest more,” he said.

Finding balance

While Nigrin said “being a CIO these days is fun,” Meadows likened it to being on an amusement park ride.

“You go up and down,” she said. “It’s an emotional roller coaster every day.” 

Nigrin recognizes that there are challenges, too.

“We don’t just have the luxury of looking at the newfangled, fun, exciting, innovative stuff that’s coming down the pipe,” he said. “We have to keep the trains running and the lights on with the systems that we have today. So there’s this tension.”

How can CIOs release that tension? Meadows said to focus on being strategic and be sure to delegate.

“We have directors for a reason. We want them to interact with technology solution providers,” she said. “We want our directors to vet products and service offerings. It’s not that we don’t want to meet with solution providers, but there’s only one CIO. But we have many directors that can participate in the evaluation process.”

In a health care CIO’s world, almost every project seems to be a high priority, and change is constantly afoot. But it’s critical that CIOs keep calm and find steady footing amid the chaos, Nigrin said.

“There’s this balancing act of how quickly we can take (projects) on versus doing all the routine things in our organizations,” he said.

The ultimate goals for health care CIOs – and organizations as a whole – are to engage more with patients and improve care.

“The patient,” Archuleta said, “is the new CEO.”

 

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Michael Archuleta, Theresa Meadows, Daniel Nigrin and Tressa Springmann share insights to help vendors meet their organization's needs.