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Top Ten Tech Trends: "Clinical Informaticists 2.0"

January 23, 2015
by Mark Hagland
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What will senior clinical informaticists need going forward? Rock-solid skills and big-picture understandings and leadership capabilities, that’s for certain

Alright, can we just come out and say it? Picking out a so-called “tech-head” doc and designating her or him as the new CMIO at your organization is just so last century. Really.  Because, while such an ad hoc tactic, used to help move a first electronic health record (EHR) implementation forward, might have been acceptable in a community hospital 15 years ago, the reality is that the emerging healthcare system is increasingly demanding the emergence of a new generation of clinical informaticists willing to take on a dizzying range of new roles and responsibilities, particularly as new titles like chief health information officer, chief clinical information officer, and chief clinical transformation officer, emerge.

The demand will only continue to intensify for clinical informaticists able to help their organizations lead true clinical transformation, leverage IT and analytics for population health and accountable care organization (ACO) development, and satisfy demands for value-based care delivery, readmissions reduction, and other initiatives coming out of both federal healthcare reform processes and demands U.S. healthcare system-wide by purchasers and payers for increased value for expenditure, as well as from newly energized healthcare consumers.

What kinds of people will be needed? Individuals with solid clinical (medical, nursing, pharmacy, etc.) backgrounds, as well as interest, ability, and familiarity with informatics and IT, plus a (very solid) dose of leadership ability, who are systems thinkers and ready to help bring together all the diverse stakeholders around the transformational-change table. And yes, we’ve got shortages.

David Levin, M.D., who was CMIO at the Cleveland Clinic Health organization from 2011 through 2014, and who is now consulting as founder and partner in Amati Health, a Suffolk, Va.-based consulting firm, explained the forward evolution of the CMIO role specifically this way: “We as a healthcare system have been about implementation the past five years, getting the infrastructure into place. And we’re not done, but we’re well down the road,” he said. But now, the CMIO role “is starting to converge with the roles of the chief quality officer or chief medical officer, roles that are about performance management, about envisioning a better future and achieving better performance, including around concepts of the Triple Aim,” which is the idea being promoted by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement of continuously improving the quality of clinical outcomes, improving the cost-effectiveness of health care, and enhancing the patient and community experience. As a result, Dr. Levin believes that what has until recently   been framed as the CMIO role has begun to “morph and migrate” into roles around strategy and performance management. “In some cases, CMIOs are becoming CIOs,” he told me. “In other cases, they’re creating new roles, like that of the chief health information officer.” Nor is the CHIO going to be limited to working with physicians, he emphasizes. Some senior nurse informaticists will also inevitably rise into CHIO roles, he believes.

Dr. Levin was part of a team led by consultant Pam Arlotto, president and CEO of the Roswell, Georgia-based Maestro Strategies consulting firm, who published a white paper entitled “From the Playing Field to the Press Bo: The Emerging Role of the Chief Health Information Officer,” the publication of which was highlighted via an interview between myself and Arlotto and Levin published on the Healthcare Informatics website in October 2014.

In the interview, Arlotto noted that part of what is happening now is a transition from an early focus on technology to a focus on information, and ultimately, among the most strategically advanced U.S. patient care organizations, to a focus on value. Transitioning through those shifts, Arlotto emphasized in the interview, “You really need to shift the type of leadership you need.”

All this, she noted, is strongly correlated to the overall level of advancement of any particular patient care organization. As Arlotto said in the October 2014 interview, “A 1.0 organization is still very fee-for-service-oriented and fragmented, a 2.0-level organization is beginning to integrate and do care and population health management, and a 3.0-level organization—the most advanced, according to her team’s schematic—“is about risk management and population health management.” Further, she noted, “The biggest difference between a 2.0-level organization and a 3.0-organization is that the 3.0-level organization is really about integrating informatics and quality improvement; they’re really converging those roles and functions together, and having those leaders collaborating, as opposed to them all being in their silos and functional areas.”

In other words, as patient care organizations advance towards what will ultimately be full-risk contracts for broad member populations, what will be absolutely essential will be the operational integration of care and case management processes with strong population health management strategies, intensified data analytics processes,