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Live From the CHIME 2012 Spring Forum: An Interview with Drex DeFord, CHIME's 2012 Board Chair

February 20, 2012
by Mark Hagland
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DeFord Sees Bold New Horizons for CHIME, healthcare CIOs

On Jan. 1, Drexel (Drex) DeFord, CIO and senior vice president at Seattle Children’s Hospital, officially became the 2012 board chair of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). A 13-year member of CHIME, DeFord brings nearly a quarter century of healthcare IT management and leadership experience to his CHIME participation. During the morning of the CHIME Spring Forum, being held on Monday, Feb. 20, at the Venetian Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas (as is customary, the CHIME Spring Forum is being held today, the day prior to the official opening of the HIMSS Conference), DeFord spoke with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding his vision for his leadership work with CHIME in the next year. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What goals have you set for yourself as this year's board chair?

This goes back to some conversations we’ve had around collaboration. And there are two angles to it. Inside our own hospitals and organizations, we really need as a healthcare IT organization to collaborate with our clinicians and other partners, to deliver what they need. And building that teamwork is incredibly important. And CHIME certainly has the opportunity to help put CIOs in a more advantageous position to help in that collaboration. The other element of this is to be able to help set the tone, set the direction, lead the conversations, in an environment in which policy leaders realize that it’s about healthcare, not healthcare IT, but that IT has the opportunity to help facilitate progress.

What do you see as CHIME members’ and CHIME’s biggest challenges right now? Would you agree that CIOS are a bit overwhelmed by all the current priorities and demands on their time and expertise?

I think you’re right—there’s an overwhelming number of good things to do. But the list you end up with is more than you can actually do, especially if you try to do it all at one time. From CHIME’s perspective, and from the CIOs’ perspective, it’s more important than ever before to collaborate with the clinical and business sides of the house, and come to up with, what can you get the biggest bang for the buck for? And you really sort of build that list of priorities, and then you execute; and inevitably, you end up with some people who won’t be happy, because what you end up with won’t suit their priority list.

But it’ll be a majority who will be satisfied, right, because they will have been engaged in the discussion process?

Absolutely. And a part of it is having those discussions with those internal leaders, and having them go back to their own teams and discuss. And at CHIME, we offer a lot of membership participation, and we have a lot of things we’re involved in, including urgent issues, including around new regulatory and policy requirements, so we try to be very inclusive and get everyone involved.

Do you see the role of the CIO evolving right now within the organization?

I think it’s evolved from being ‘the IT guy’ to becoming a true healthcare leader. And now, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the transportation system or the parking garage gates or medical device integration or the EMR, we continue to have deeper and deeper involvement in the day-to-day operations of our organizations. What’s more, with health information exchange evolving forward, our involvement has moved far outside the walls of our institutions, with other hospitals, with payers, with governmental agencies. The job has just evolved so far from just providing IT services, to really being deeply embedded in every aspect of operations.

Do you think CEOs, other c-suite members, and board members really understand now what a CIO is, and could be, in their organizations?

I think it’s very inconsistent; in some organizations, they do. In other organizations, the CIO still reports to the CFO, for example, and there isn’t a really deep engagement in what is possible. I think it takes time and it takes more maturity for organizations to really understand this. But in the next for our five years, that maturity is going to come pretty quickly for those organizations that aren’t there yet.

What are your predictions for CHIME, and for CIOs in healthcare, over the next five years?

For CHIME, we’ll continue our full-court press both in terms of education and in terms of advocacy. I think you’ll see more and more of that. David Muntz is now at ONC, which is brilliant [Muntz, a long-time CIO and leader in CHIME, last month joined the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology as principal deputy]. And there’s no master plan on CHIME’s part there, but I think there was a recognition on ONC’s part that we have some very smart people, and they’re calling on those folks now to be a part of the solution, and David’s a part of that.

For CIOs in general, their responsibilities are going to continue to expand—things like taking biomedical under their wing, health information management under their wing. For example, I have HIM under me, and a dotted-line relationship with biomed; and the same thing is true with regard to facilities management. And we’ll continue to bring those operational functions closer and closer. And I think CIOs are really well-positioned, that I think CIOs will evolve forward, even to CEO and COO positions. Over time, that will happen.

Any additional thoughts for our readers?