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CNIOs Go Strategic

October 20, 2016
by Heather Landi
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In a survey by Chicago consulting firm Witt/Kieffer, 51 percent of respondents said their organizations have a CNIO in place, an 82 percent increase from a similar survey in 2011.
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As more healthcare delivery organizations undergo clinical transformation processes, the demand for senior nursing informatics leaders continues to gain momentum—and along with new needs, the role of the chief nursing informatics officer (CNIO) is evolving forward, maturing and becoming more complex. Many CNIOs are finding themselves increasingly involved in organization-wide performance improvement and management processes even as they successfully let go of direct nursing management and other responsibilities.

Several years ago, a number of surveys and articles came out that pointed to the rise of the CNIO as an emerging role to support clinical transformation, as healthcare organizations began to move past initial electronic health records (EHR) implementations, and into EHR optimization and beyond. Indeed, the CNIO role has quickly gained traction in the past five years as healthcare executives recognize the importance of aligning clinicians’ workflow with health IT systems.

While in the past, senior nursing informaticists acted mainly as liaisons between IT and nursing in their organizations, the CNIO role has been blossoming into greater scope and complexity, with CNIOs in large health systems and integrated delivery networks (IDNs) in particular, ascending to positions of organization-wide leadership. And while the CNIO role has become increasingly established at large academic medical centers and large IDNs, leaders at a range of patient care organizations nationwide are increasingly recognizing the need for these skilled professionals.

“The nursing informaticists have such a unique role and their ability to blend clinical practice and how best to leverage technology is what really makes it a powerful role,” Sue Atkinson, R.N., associate principal with The Chartis Group (Chicago), says. Atkinson, who is based in Aspen, Colorado, is a leader at The Chartis Group’s clinical performance excellence practice. “Those are important skills to have—the clinical expertise and the IT knowledge and the ability to bring the two together to make the most of technology to ultimately focus on improving patient care.”

According to a recent survey of nursing informatics executives and their peers released by Chicago-based consulting firm Witt/Kieffer, 51 percent of respondents said their organizations have a CNIO in place, an 82 percent increase from a similar survey Witt/Kieffer conducted in 2011. In that survey from five years ago, 28 percent of respondents said they had a CNIO in place. Additionally, one-fourth of respondents (24 percent) in this year’s survey indicated the role was on the corporate radar.

“I think a good surprise from the survey results is that the role is becoming more mainstream and we’re seeing more organizations either have hired CNIOs or are thinking about hiring them, more so than five years ago,” says Chris Wierz, R.N., an Oak Brook, Ill.-based principal with Witt/Kieffer, and co-lead of the firm’s IT practice. Wierz notes that her initial nursing title in healthcare IT was the computer nurse, “so we’ve come a long way,” she says.

Chris Wierz, R.N.

In the Witt/Kiefer survey, 14 percent of respondents currently hold the title of CNIO, compared to 4 percent in the 2011 survey, a 250 percent increase. The prevalence of the title Director of Clinical Informatics also grew, from 4 percent of respondents in 2011 to 14 percent in this year’s survey. Wierz says this indicates the informatics role is gaining credibility while making its way into the C-suite.

Terri Gocsik, R.N., a Detroit-based consultant and associate principal with The Chartis Group, sees a number of healthcare trends elevating the role of nursing informatics, including the persistent merger and acquisition activity in healthcare. “We’re seeing the existence of large IDNs and clinical integrated network (CIN) formation, and those organizations are seeing that they have disparate, decentralized processes for informatics and there’s a need to pull that together into a more organized, centralized format. So, we’re starting to see that leadership role, and it may not necessarily be a CNIO, it may be at the director level, so there’s different titles. We’re starting to see an increase of the recognition of the need for nursing clinical leaders to organize their work.”

The 2015 HIMSS “Impact of the Informatics Nurse Survey” indicates that informatics nurses were widely seen as bringing value to the use of clinical systems and technologies at their healthcare organizations. Respondents to that survey indicated that informatics nurses bring greatest value to the implementation phase (85 percent) and optimization phase (83 percent) of clinical systems process. Informatics nurses also were viewed as having a direct positive impact on the quality of care patients receive.

“We are going to continue to see the role and use of technology expand in healthcare and the demand for nurses with informatics training will grow in parallel. As clinicians further focus on transforming information into knowledge, technology will be a fundamental enabler of future care delivery models and nursing informatics leaders will be essential to this transformation.” Joyce Sensmeier, R.N., vice president of informatics at HIMSS North America, says.

Joyce Sensmeier, R.N.


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