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CHIME's Branzell, Other HIT Leaders Deliver Strong Message on the Future of Healthcare Leadership

September 28, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Russ Branzell at the CHIME Lead Forum-New York

New leadership traits and skills will be required for CIOs to thrive in tomorrow's healthcare, according to Russell P. Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME, and others, who presented at the CHIME Lead Forum-New York on Sept. 28.

Branzell delivered a strong presentation on setting vision and strategy in a dynamic time in healthcare. The keynote was the second one of the day on health IT leadership at CHIME Lead Forum-New York, co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2—a sister organization to Healthcare Informatics under the joint umbrella of the Vendome Group, LLC). The CHIME event serves as a lead-in to the iHT2 New York Health IT Summit, set to take place on Sept. 29th and 30th. The first keynote on health IT leadership was given by Rodney Dykehouse, CIO of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, whose presentation looked at current and future healthcare and organizational trends, challenges and drivers impacting provider organizations, and the role of the health IT leaders.  

Both Branzell and Dykehouse emphasized the "new normal" and what skills and leadership qualities are now necessary for the emerging "CIO 3.0." At a CHIME Boston event earlier this year, Branzell, as reported by HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, discussed in depth the evolution of the CIO role. Per Hagland's story on that session, Branzell said: “Pre-CIO, IT operations directors were technical managers, and their role was advisory. The “CIO 1.0” was a supportive role, focused on being an application purveyor. The “CIO 1.5” is an enabler role as a knowledge purveyor. The “CIO 2.0” role is a driver role, with the CIO functioning as a service broker, project advisor, and venture capitalist. Most patient care organization CIOs, he noted, are struggling to move into and through the “2.0” role phase; his view is that only 10-15 percent of CIOs are”2.0s,” in his view, while 40 percent each are “1.0s” or “1.5s.” What does the “3.0” CIO look like? The handful of true 3.0 CIOs are truly driving change and transforming their organizations, he said.

Similarly, here in New York, Branzell again mentioned how most CIOs are not that close to the "2.0" level. Skills of the CIO 3.0 include operational management 2.0 and strategic senior management leadership, rather than just be in charge of IT. Additionally, Branzell noted, change leadership, innovation, talent management, information governance/knowledge management, and relationship management are all needed for the changing CIO role. "The expectancy of downtime is now zero. The pressure on CIOs is that they're now expected to come in and fix all of an organization's problems," Branzell said.

To this end, Penn State Hershey's Dykehouse said in his presentation that "Every time [CIOs] think that we are out in front of something, something else changes." Expectations of the CIO 3.0, Dykehouse said, include a drive towards health information exchanges (HIEs), certified electronic health records (EHRs), patient portals, data warehouses, complete data integration, data analytics, population health, a world-class IT team, an accountable care organization (ACO) system, and much more. As such, oftentimes CIOs have to deal with not having perfect clarity for policy mandates such as meaningful use and ICD-10. “People want black and white answers, but we are living in the fog and gray, so you need to get your teams ready for the unknown,” Dykehouse advised.

What's more, Dykehouse and Branzell said, you cannot be a back-office CIO anymore, but instead you need to be embedded in leadership with IT and business being aligned strategically. "Leadership is not being an IT director, it's about being a business leader," Dykehouse said. Now, he continued, CIOs should leverage their relationships and credibility as a true business partner focused on business value. The new normal means demonstrating the value of strategic and operational planning to be agile and effective in meeting changing requirements, he said. 

Branzell agreed, going as far to say that business acumen is now even more essential than ever. “To be an institutional leader, the CIO should be a member of the executive team. Those who are below the 2.0 level align themselves with the IT team, where 2.0s and higher align themselves with the executive team,” he said. “You need to understand and be prepared to manage the business. Build bridges with clinicians. Anchor your thinking in process improvement and measurement,” he said. With CIOs at a 2.0 or higher level, Branzell added, most of how well they are doing has almost nothing to do with IT, but instead about organizational performance such as well-defined clinical operating and patient satisfaction metrics.