Where to Go Next

By Lynn Gibson, VP & CTO, CHRISTUS Health

By Lynn Gibson, VP & CTO, CHRISTUS Health
By Lynn Gibson, VP & CTO, CHRISTUS Health
In healthcare IT, nothing is certain but change. It was not that long ago; the concept of an electronic medical record was a dream because the ability to store that much data and quickly retrieve it was not available. It was even less amount of time past that the concept of having a video call with a physician on your smart phone was something seen in sci-fi movies. The thought of housing patient information somewhere other than in data centers that you own was risky and absurd. Thought of words 10-15 years ago like security, cloud, internet of things, smart phones and tablets were never every day verbiage. Terms cyber security, block chain, and population health are routinely part of Board conversations. The journey to prepare and handle these challenges requires today’s IT leaders to perform visioning out beyond what the operators of today see and are ready to handle.
So many consultants begin talking to their clients about roadmaps to establish a vision. Yet, without a vision, you cannot create a workable roadmap. Roadmaps are great communication tools if the operational and technical teams can see both the vision and the tasks before them. The healthcare IT roadmap of today is far more challenging that it was twenty years ago. In the past, a CIO could survive by being ahead of the operational team by a few years. Many operational and clinical leaders did not have an understanding of how technology could benefit the practice. They saw themselves as just users of the tool.
The window has significantly narrowed in the last few years as not only as the operational team becomes more tech savvy but so has the consumer/patient. It has been reported there are nearly 200,000 healthcare apps developed for the Apple and Android phones and tablets. We will soon have a new wireless technology that will potentially bring land line speeds to the phone and tablets through their cell services. The ability to provide high definition imagery to a hand-held device is moving toward clinical grade quality. Data is exploding and storage costs have stayed low. New and innovative methods are being deployed in hospitals, clinics and now in the delivery of medicine at patient homes. The majority of all of these new developments are at the consumer finger tips.
How can the IT leadership stay ahead of the demand that is coming? There is no simple answer as every company is different. Developing a vision that the organization can buy into is critical, but the vision must match the culture of the company. Bringing a number of cutting edges tools may work in an academic facility but not in rural community hospital. If your organization is leveraged with debt, it may not be able to fund innovative or capital intense projects. None of this means you cannot bring change or develop an innovative organization. It may mean you have to develop a vision that brings new partners and relationships. It could mean a new organization outside the traditional IT. So here are some suggestions in developing that vision and the roadmap.
Although group meetings can bring a consensus, they rarely foster open conversations. Meet with each member of the senior executive leadership individually and ask not for their vision of IT, but their vision of the organization. Be sure to include the clinical leaders in the interviews and if you are at a large integrated delivery network, make the rounds to the different locations and ask similar questions. When you visit, have a mixture of open ended as well as specifically focused questions and ask for a timeline. Include some new grads from residency programs or nursing schools. It may take some time, but the learnings will be worth it.
Read and research articles from other industries and learn what they are doing to meet the challenges. There are numerous pundits that love to offer suggestions of the future. Years ago, a very well-known think-tank group projected that no more than four neurosurgeons would be needed in one of the largest US metropolitan areas. Today there are nearly 100 with thriving practices in the same community. Not all pundits, regardless of their pedigree, will be accurate, but when several start talking about the same potential, it may be worth while to do more study.
Last, talk with your staff. Not just your direct reports. Seek out both the ones who have just started and those who have been with the organization for a while. Share what you learned and then listen to them talk about what excites them. Doing all of this will establish trust. What you learn from all may just surprise you and you will be ready to put your vision together. To paraphrase a noted management author, John Maxwell, people will want to trust the person before they follow the vision.