Chief information officers (CIOs) in healthcare organizations today are agents of change. They play many different roles, from practical problem-solver to out-of-the-box thinker. But more often than not, the role that a CIO plays inside a healthcare organization depends on what operational stage the organization is in.
In the case of a merger or acquisition, a CIO might have to figure out which technological system stays and which one goes, or if a move to the cloud makes sense. If a hospital finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy, a CIO needs to focus on how to streamline operations and cut costs.
David Chou, CIO and CDO at Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas City, says there are four different roles a CIO can play. Chou, who has worked in the healthcare provider space for the last 18 years, notes that having a good idea of what state the organization is in can help define a CIO's priorities.
Purchasing decisions are front and center for the buying CIO, from installing new systems in a startup facility to replacing outdated technology in an existing structure.
“The buying CIO might walk into a new hospital without existing technology and have to buy a platform or a new lab system to support the organization," Chou explains.
A CIO in this position might also contemplate a move to the cloud. Chou says the cloud can produce high computation and sequencing of lab values faster and at a lower cost when compared to hardware.
“If I need to perform computational sequencing of lab data, for example, I could use the cloud and turn up the compute power in a lab environment right away and just pay for that consumption. Then, once I'm done, I could spin down the computation and resources as well."
As healthcare companies continue to consolidate amid rising costs, many CIOs can expect to face integration challenges. In 2017, the corporate deal value of healthcare M&A value jumped 27% to $332 billion from just a year earlier, according to Bain & Company's Global Healthcare Private Equity and Corporate M&A Report.1
“Whether a company is getting acquired or acquiring another organization, the focus of a CIO in this role is on learning how to integrate the positive aspects of an organization," Chou says.
That, of course, includes technology. Chou believes CIOs should focus on whether the right security measures are being taken; they should look at lab devices and lab systems, and make sure that everything is being updated regularly to avoid a ransomware attack.
“Lab vendors need to address how they're going to make sure that their devices will have the latest configuration and operating systems. They also must ensure they have a regular schedule for security updates and patching, and that they have a mechanism to monitor these devices so that no virus or malware can affect it."
One of the biggest dilemmas for the turnaround CIO is finding the right talent. “One of the main reasons that organizations aren't digital is that they don't have the knowledge in-house to get there," explains Chou, who has lived through a healthcare organizational turnaround of his own. “These organizations don't have a workforce that's thinking cloud-first."
A turnaround CIO must look at an organization's talent and fill in the necessary gaps across areas such as data analytics and cybersecurity, while making sure new leaders are hired that support the overall turnaround strategy.
“When you walk into a distressed hospital that's not doing well financially, you need to make the right investments in people and technology, and build the right teams so that you can turn the organization around to build the next generation."
When it comes to the lab, a turnaround CIO might want to look at ways to make lab data more accessible and available. “Hopefully, this will produce a positive impact for the organization from a clinical and financial standpoint."
According to Chou, today's healthcare organizations shouldn't settle for the status quo, though there are CIOs who play this role. Chou notes there's always something that can be done to improve healthcare organizations, whether that's using data to make smarter business decisions or reinvesting savings back into the healthcare organization.
“Hopefully, there's not too many CIOs out there who are just trying to keep the lights on."
No matter which type of CIO you work with, understanding his or her goals better will help achieve the objectives of both the lab and the larger healthcare organization.
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