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Quest to Be the Best

October 1, 2007
by Mark Hagland
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Being a CIO in today's environment of massive IT implementations takes focus, communication and savvy — and that's just the beginning

It's not easy running a healthcare IT shop these days. The criteria for success grows more stringent as hospitals and health systems continue implementing advanced clinical information solutions such as electronic medical record (EMR) systems, CPOE (computer-based provider order entry) systems, and others. As such, the need for CIOs who are truly strategic thinkers continues to expand. Meanwhile, recruiting and retaining top talent remains an ongoing challenge.

In our quest to learn exactly what it takes, we've interviewed a number of top CIOs, along with industry experts that study best practices for a living. Through those interviews, a picture emerges of an industry and its leadership being asked to do more than ever, with the need for multi-skilled executives (IT knowledge is just stakes to play) who can demonstrate interpersonal and strategic skills at the highest level. More than ever, the top jobs demand people that can deliver top-notch service and support to end-user clinicians.

To be sure, certain differences emerge between large hospitals and multi-hospital systems on the one hand, and medium-sized and smaller hospital organizations on the other. CIOs of smaller and medium-sized hospital organizations are, not surprisingly, more preoccupied with finding creative ways to handle their limited budgets, with an emphasis on the IT department as a service organization.

Meanwhile, CIOs at the largest organizations are finding themselves compelled to fill important positions just below their own level — chief medical informatics officer (CMIO) and chief technology officer (CTO) positions, in particular, or at least to fill their equivalent functions — in order to create depth in the areas of clinical informatics strategy, and the broad range of infrastructure, network and other technical issues.

With this difference in resources and focus in mind, we've divided our coverage into two stories — the first focused on hospitals and health systems handling over 1,000 beds, the second, under.

Still, the general outlines are more uniform than not for CIOs at all types of organizations. And, all those interviewed agree, having a rock-solid, top-tier healthcare IT team in place has become more important than ever. In the two following stories, we uncover the biggest obstacles, and the biggest opportunities, facing CIOs and their teams today. — M.H.