Skip to content Skip to navigation

Are Healthcare CIOs Aligned With their Fellow C-Suite Execs? Don’t Be So Sure

November 3, 2015
| Reprints
The presentation of the results of an important survey at the CHIME Fall Forum last month underscored the vast strategic challenges facing CIOs right now
Click To View Gallery

Are hospital and health system CIOs truly aligned strategically with their fellow c-suite leaders? That question came to the fore last month at the CHIME Fall Forum, when two industry leaders presented the provocative findings of a survey that they had helped to create and execute.

Tim Zoph and Donna Roach, both nationally known healthcare IT leaders, and both very active in the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based CHIME (College of Healthcare Information Management Executives), co-developed a survey first for CHIME board members, then for CHIME-member CIOs, and then, intriguingly, for non-CIO c-suite executives. And the results definitely offered food for thought—and also cause for some pause.

As I reported on October 15, the day they presented the survey results, Zoph, who served as senior vice president and CIO at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago from 1993 through 2012, and who is now consulting in healthcare IT, and Roach, the CIO at Via Christi Health in Wichita, presented those findings during a session entitled “The Evolving Role of the CIO: Aligning CIO Perspectives with the Executive Team,” during the CHIME Fall Forum, held in Orlando.

In his opening remarks before presenting with Roach the results of the survey, Zoph said, “One of the most important learnings of this enterprise was that achieving alignment with the senior team is fundamental. If you don’t have alignment, you’re going to have problems developing strategy. Technology is a team sport.” As he and Roach explained it, the survey, which looked at the top leadership attributes that will be required of CIOs going forward in U.S. healthcare at a time of intense change, was given first to the CHIME board’s members to complete, then to the 123 CIOs, and then to a few dozen CEOs and other c-suite leaders, by their organizations’ CIOs.

Among the two most important overall findings: both CIOs and other c-suite executives agreed that one of CIOs’ core responsibilities in the next several years will be as change agents within their organizations; and, c-suite executives especially perceived—more than CIOs themselves did—that CIOs will need to be emerging technology innovators, moving their organizations forward proactively to push healthcare forward via technology, and not simply fulfilling the required operational tasks that have been theirs throughout the history of healthcare IT in patient care organizations.

After the session, Zoph told me that “It was really interesting to compare and contrast those two results. On the one hand, both CIOs and other c-suite executives agreed that CIOs need to be change agents; on the other hand, the non-CIOs had a heightened awareness of the need for CIOs to be real technology innovators, to really proactively lead through technology.”

In other words, healthcare CIOs need to realize—if they haven’t aready—that the rules of the game have changed, for good. The days when being a good CIO meant implementing core information systems for her or his organization and keeping them running smoothly, are over. Yes, of course, a good CIO still has to do those things, but those are now what is referred in the gambling business as “table stakes.” What c-suite executives, and most especially CEOs of patient care organizations, are wanting—nay, increasingly demanding—is CIOs who are visionaries, and who know how to lead their colleagues forward towards their organizations’ core strategic goals, leveraging information technology, but as a tool, not as an end in itself. Of course, these kinds of pronouncements have been made for a full generation now.

But the difference is that, at a time when healthcare itself is making a fundamental shift—from volume-driven fee-for-service payment to payment based on value—the old ways of doing things are no longer sufficient or satisfactory. CIOs, along with CMIOs, CTOs, and their colleagues—must now look at the very biggest picture going forward—they must, in short, understand where the entirety of healthcare is going—in order to be able to be effective leaders in their positions. And that means understanding that concepts like population health, accountable care, patient- or person-centered care, are no longer just “buzz” terms, but in fact will be the concepts that will help guide the U.S. healthcare system forward towards fundamental change.

As I continue to note in articles, blogs, and at speaking events, none of this is happening in a vacuum; indeed, the prediction last September by the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that the U.S. healthcare system would go from spending $3.1 trillion annually as of 2014, to $5.5 trillion annually, a decade later, should be earth-shattering to anyone who hears it. And the predictions of a rapidly aging population and an explosion in chronic disease, which buttressed that numerical prediction, can only cause every healthcare leader in this country to have to rethink some fundamentals about how our system works, and should work.

So I was gratified to hear Zoph and Roach present findings that validated everything that we here at Healthcare Informatics are hearing—that c-suite executives—and indeed, the purchasers and payers of healthcare—are demanding a transformation in how CIOs and other senior healthcare IT leaders are doing what they’re doing. Because time is of the essence, and the time for transformative change is now.