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Live from the CHIME Fall CIO Forum: CHIME Board Chairman Hickman Looks at the Future of the CIO Role

October 9, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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George T. “Buddy” Hickman, CHIME’s board chair, peers into the future of the CIO role

George T. “Buddy” Hickman, executive vice president and CIO of Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center and board chair of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), and chair of the CHIME Foundation board, spoke exclusively on Wednesday, Oct. 9 with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, during the CHIME Fall CIO Forum, being held at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., regarding changes in the industry and the future of CIOs. Below are excerpts from that interview.

The CHIME Fall CIO Forum has about 750 attendees this year; that’s a record. And it seems as though there’s never been a better time for CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders to meet with each other and converse. What are your thoughts?

Earlier this week, I dropped in on the Boot Camp that we run for new CIOs, and folks who are aspiring CIOs. I dropped in on them at lunch on Monday, and I sat down, and someone looked across the table and said, ‘So what’s going on at your place?’ And I said, well… we’re looking at what healthcare reform is doing to the revenue stream, and how to replace that revenue loss or replace that income. We’re also just opened a new patient tower and are moving all our ICUs and many other departments, through the end of October; we continue to improve our EHR [electronic health record] deployment, something that is always evolving forward; we’re deep into the ICD-10 conversion project; like others, we’re looking at how we acquire and collaborate with physician practices, and thus are assimilating those practices in terms of IT; and we continue to be a bit of a pioneer with the exchange mechanism called DIRECT. So I said, that’s about what we’ve got going on. [laughs] And I looked around and said to the others at the table, isn’t that what you’re all doing? And everyone agreed. So everyone’s fraught with activity now.

George T. Hickman

At the same time, it seems to me that a common vision of the new healthcare is emerging, and that at least there’s clarity around that, which should be helpful to CIOs, even as they are somewhat overwhelmed by all the demands right now, correct?

I agree. I believe there’s increased relevance in data and information. Certainly, the new wave of healthcare is a catalyst for that higher level of interest in the entire c-suite. We like others, are embarking on new approaches to the data mission. We ‘re realizing you have to mine the data in ways that bring together data from many different sources. And you’re right: we do have the same themes. The tactics may differ somewhat; where you sit with your vendors, or your individual market, may differ. But the overall themes are the same. And if your executive team gets it, there’s so much more opportunity as a chief information officer, to help shape the direction of the organization, and t4o work with a team to make more complex decisions.

Thematically, what do you see as the biggest challenges for CIOs  in the next five years?

I’d probably put them into two broad categories. First, the first set have to do with the way that healthcare organizations will be structured in the next five years will change considerably. There will be a blurring of different types of providers and of providers and payers, coming together; and therefore, you’ll need whole new processes. And then there’s culture: you need leadership that knows how to change and think differently. I visited another academic medical center just two weeks ago. And their chair of gastroenterology got up and started the discussion around data. And he didn’t talk about patients; he talked about members, health plan members. He showed a market cachement map, and had on the map the number of members and cost per member per month, of members with Crohn’s disease. He then went into a case study of one “frequent flyer” patient, in terms of ED visits, etc., and the costs, from that patient’s record, with that patient’s permission, the utilization, and then showed how the patient was sent more now to an urgent care center or primary care physician, on a daily basis, using care management, thus reducing the costs. And the leaders there talked about how they’ve reshaped the management of Crohn’s disease using data and care management. Well, that’s what we’re all going to have to be doing going forward.

Do you believe that CIOs are up to the broad challenge overall?

I’m fortunate: the ones I hang out with are up to this. And the kinds of conversations I’ve had in the last two days, I’ll say there are a lot of bright people out there. Just this moment, I was comparing notes with CIOs on health information exchange. So I think that we do have a lot of talent, and I hope the industry’s ready to embrace it, and let people bring things forward.