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Bridge Work

December 25, 2007
by Charlene Marietti
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As the world of IT evolves, one survey indicates the trend toward more business-savvy CIOs with longer tenures

The fast-expanding field of clinical informatics, which bridges the two complex industry segments of healthcare and information technology, is changing rapidly. Expectations among professionals hiring for new and emerging job positions are rising. And so is the demand for highly qualified personnel to support the growing adoption and dependency on more robust and more integrated care delivery-related software applications.

To make the move to a care provider's or health plan's IT team in years past, it was enough to have clinical expertise and some computer literacy — or at least interest in learning. That is still somewhat true as CIOs often tend to hire those with clinical backgrounds. (Most say it's easier to teach technology to a clinical person who understands how the healthcare industry functions than teach the intricacies of healthcare to someone with a computer science or pure technology background.) But the stakes are now being raised as growing numbers of professionals armed with advanced degrees in healthcare, biomedical and medical informatics enter the market.

Until recently, only a couple of structured training and educational programs were operative. Now the field is rapidly maturing and the number of post-graduate programs offered is little short of phenomenal. At the American Medical Informatics Association symposium in Chicago last November, no fewer than 26 institutions exhibited, trolling for students or fellows. More programs are being introduced nationwide.

For those with advanced degrees and/or specialized training, the career outlook is promising. Executive and other upper level management jobs, such as chief medical informaticists and nursing informaticists, are becoming more common, especially in larger organizations. The office of CIO is also maturing — becoming more credible and an increasingly desirable career goal for informatics specialists.

Results from the “Healthcare Informatics Research Series, 2008 Compensation Survey: Salaries and Benefits of Healthcare IT Professionals,” suggest that as relative newcomers to the executive table, the CIO position is also becoming more stable, leaving behind a period associated with often unrealistic expectations for newly hired CIOs. Seventy percent of the CIOs surveyed have occupied their position at least four years — and more than half have held their job for more than six years. This is in stark contrast to the past decade, when the job tenure was notorious for being about two years, attributed largely to unrealistic expectations of the time required to develop an IT strategy, implement the technology and effectively bring about change.

Highly successful CIOs generally agree that a minimum of five years is necessary to realize the benefits of an IT strategy within an organization. And seven years is better. Across the industry, the survey reveals the staying power of CIOs on par with that of other C-level executives.

But the move into the C-suite also requires more than specialized knowledge and training in technology, as indicated by the growing ranks of CIOs with post-graduate degrees and what they consider their best qualification for their current position. Basic business leadership skills trumped education and professional aptitude for nearly half (49 percent) of the hospital-based CIOs surveyed, who consider management and interpersonal skills their strongest competencies. They're not just techies anymore.