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Drex DeFord on Leadership: Bridging the Gap Between Today’s and Tomorrow’s Care Models

March 23, 2012
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CHIME’s 2012 board chairman will discuss crucial leadership issues at the HCI Executive Summit in May
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Conversing with Drex DeFord, this year’s board chairman for CHIME, at the CHIME Spring Forum last month, was an excellent experience as always. I caught up with Drex on Feb. 22, the full day of the Spring Forum, amid the swirl of educational sessions and presentations, discussions, and other events at CHIME.

Drex, the CIO and senior vice president at Seattle Children’s Hospital, officially became 2012 board chair on Jan. 1. From my perspective, he is exquisitely suited to the voluntary role. Not only has he spent decades in healthcare IT executive management; he has the passion and commitment around helping to lead healthcare CIOs forward to meet the burgeoning challenges of the emerging healthcare. In particular, he understands the three big pieces of the puzzle that will be required for healthcare CIOs to be successful as a nationwide cohort: the internal element; the internal leadership element; and the external element, which extends into the policy realm.

Drex DeFord

In other words, CIOs, more than ever, are going to have to work as super-facilitators for clinician leaders, front-line clinicians, and clinical informaticists in their organizations when it comes to meaningful use, care delivery performance improvement, healthcare reform, and other issues (and of course, will have to work with administrative staff in their organizations in the non-clinical areas); will have to help lead their fellow c-suite executives forward on IT issues in order to pursue and meet organization-wide strategic goals; and will increasingly have to participate at the federal and state policy levels in order to make sure that policymakers in Washington and the state capitals hear the viewpoints and perspectives of provider CIOs as they formulate policy mandates.

Here’s how Drex put it to me in our interview that day: “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 where policy leaders realize that it’s about healthcare, not healthcare IT, but that IT has the opportunity to help facilitate progress.”

Exactly. And, the bottom line is this: when asked how he sees the role of the CIO evolving right now within the patient care organization, Drex said straightforwardly, “I think it’s evolved from being ‘the IT guy’ to becoming a true healthcare leader.”

Not surprisingly, Drex is going to speak on the topic of what he believes healthcare needs in the form of leadership and technology to bridge the gap between today’s and tomorrow’s care models, when he delivers the closing keynote address on Tuesday, May 8, at the Healthcare Informatics Executive Summit.

There will be ample time for a good Q&A session at the end of that address. I can’t wait to hear that discussion—I’m certain it will be very robust.




Drex knows what he is talking about and he is genetically built for this. Some folks just are not collaborators and don't have the innate ability to lead in collaboration but are already CIO's. I suspect they can work on this via training and with mentors and coaches. From a practical perspective, if I were a CIO that had trouble leading out in collaboration I would find a CMIO or other executive in the organization that would team up with me to help fill the gap. Just a thought. Kent Gale