IT’S 15 MONTHS AND COUNTING. All energies, people, capital and imagination are neck deep in Y2K remediation (or better be). The recognition came late but the urgency is there and solutions are progressing…modestly.
But all that effort isn’t getting healthcare anywhere, and another threat looms. The CIOs who pointed toward the sky falling at the millennium are being similarly ignored as they herald the millennium morning-after: that in many places and not just due to Y2K, not a dime has been spent in years on systems to support healthcare’s changing landscape. Heads are going to roll after the century turns--and not just due to Y2K.
Meanwhile the stories are pathetically numerous: A CIO and her team spend more than a year carving out a strategy and implementation plan that’s smart, doable and supported by everyone who has to make it work. The infrastructure is in, extra staff are on board, training rooms are set up. It’s minutes to liftoff when they’re relieved of the money to complete the job--nevermind that costs already expended are lost and the implementation has to happen sooner or later anyway. Mission aborted; another CIO hits the trail.
CIOs smile knowingly at statistics that should alarm all healthcare executives: that the life expectancy of a CIO is a generous two years. Given the time it takes to hire and train an effective IS team and to identify and implement systems, that kind of turnover virtually guarantees that any advancements in healthcare’s information infrastructure will stall where they stand.
Why are CIOs (willingly or not) moving on? Blame the boards of directors and the executives who get impatient with expenditures whose returns won’t show up for months or years. Blame the CIOs for failing to recognize the need to continually and effectively sell up. The reasons are individual but the theme is the same: Information (and the complex tools developed to support it) is unquestionably the key to managing healthcare quality, delivery, efficiency and cost. But despite all noise to the contrary, healthcare has yet to make information management a tier-one institutional strategy.
CIOs sometimes can legitimately be blamed for not grasping the business context they live in, but they can see the smoke spilling from the executive suites and can harness the tools they command to help douse the fires--provided they’re recognized as part of the solution.
While the year-2000 problem consumes, the year-2001 problem looms. Unless CIOs are heard and believed now, it’s going to get uglier--for them, for their executives and for their organizations.