TotalCIO

Nov 13 2013   3:39PM GMT

CIO leadership in a challenging environment: Three health IT CIOs speak their minds

Nicole Laskowski Nicole Laskowski Profile: Nicole Laskowski

The collision of the electronic health records and the Affordable Care Act has brought even more complexity and uncertainty to the role of IT in the health care industry. One could make the case that the CIOs of health care organizations are sitting in the hottest of the digital-age hot seats. At the 45th annual SIMposium, held in Boston, Mass., a panel of health IT CIOs talked about how technology is changing just about every aspect of health care — except one: the importance of leadership. When asked what skill they rely on most to achieve change in a challenging environment, there was no mention of ERP systems, silos, systems integration, data warehouses or, for that matter, data. In fact, technology didn’t come up at all. Here’s what they had to say:

Jim Noga, CIO of Partners HealthCare, on leading by showing and explaining: “I think you achieve change by being transparent and being able to explain the purpose of the change rather than having an autocratic approach of, ‘We’re just going to do this.’ In terms of CIOs, I see that role morphing into something closer to a COO than a CIO and driving that clinical and business transformation. That’s going to be the role of new CIO — especially as things move into the cloud. It’s the old adage of we overestimate how quickly things are going to change in the next [two] years but we underestimate how things are going to change in five to ten years. … It’s not that you don’t need the technical skills, but you’re going to be seen more as a leader of process change in the organization.”

Bruce Metz, CIO of Lahey Clinic, on leading by building trust: “[Unless you] develop strong working relationships and trust with members of IT …  and everybody throughout the organization … you’re not going to get the kind of organization and culture of change that you need. You’ll get successful technology implementations, but the organization isn’t going to get where it needs to go. … For what’s going on in health care, you have to have a high tolerance for uncertainty because we don’t know some of the things that are going to happen. If people in Washington decide, as they keep saying they’re going to do, to cut $50 million to $100 million in what we each get for federal reimbursement, life’s going to change overnight. We also have to stay flexible so we can deal with those unknowns, and with whoever may wind up joining our system when [Washington] decides to do that … So it’s dealing with uncertainty, flexibility, but really focusing on all the members of the organization — and outside too, with our partners — and having those strong working relationships that can carry through whatever does come at you. ”

Paul Hanlon, CIO of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, on leading with honesty and humor: “Brutal honesty and a sense of humor. We’re all trying to change a system … that’s facing regulatory pressures, that’s facing market pressures, and everyone’s running at pace. So that means sometimes we’re going to have to confess to not doing things as well as we’d like to have done them, and other times we’re going to have to confess by having a dialogue with our business customers where we say, ‘We don’t think that’s the right place to go, and here are the reasons why.’ In an environment where you’ve got those types of pressures, honesty is important — it’s what drives trust. And, frankly, you need to have a sense of humor. … For me, those are the two most important things because they help build relationships. And once you’ve got relationships, you can build from there.”

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