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Will the Chief Digital Officer Role be Key to Healthcare’s Future?

August 5, 2018
by Heather Landi
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As many healthcare organizations are in various stages of their digital transformation journeys, executives at leading health systems and hospitals are increasingly adding chief digital officers (CDOs) to their senior leadership teams.

According to a survey from PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) in early 2016, only 6 percent of the top 1,500 global companies had chief digital officers, at that time. But, the CDO is an emerging and fast-growing executive role in healthcare, as hospitals and health systems are looking for a key leader to manage overall digital strategy and the consumers’ digital experience. St. Louis-based Ascension, one of the largest U.S. health care systems with 153 hospitals, recently hired Eduardo Conrado as its first chief digital officer, charged with steering the health system’s digital strategy and accelerating digital initiatives. Conrado comes to Ascension from Motorola, where he recently served as chief strategy and innovation officer.

In a press release, Ascension president and CEO Anthony Tersigni, Ed.D., said the move to hire Conrado was in response to rapid changes impacting the healthcare industry. “As our industry and our ministry rapidly transform, new technologies and companies are disrupting the market at an ever-faster pace, and leaders are beginning to fully embrace digital solutions to unlock innovation and drive productivity, connectivity and engagement,” Tersigni stated.

Many health systems are tapping digital leaders from outside healthcare. Aaron Martin, chief digital officer at Seattle-based Providence St. Joseph Health, previously worked at Amazon. The key, many industry experts say, is that the healthcare CDO needs to have clinical and organizational understanding to succeed.

Given the ongoing focus on this role, Healthcare Informatics Associate Editor Heather Landi spoke with Hillary Ross, senior partner with the Oak Brook, Ill.-based executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, about the growing importance of the CDO role in healthcare, what skillsets are needed and the CDO’s relationship with the CIO and other C-suite leaders. Ross leads Witt/Kieffer's healthcare IT practice and specializes in the recruitment of senior-level physicians and other clinicians. Below are excerpts from that interview.

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What is driving healthcare executives to add the chief digital officer role to their C-suite team?

When the healthcare landscape changed from fee-for-service to fee-for-value, and health systems started looking at driving value, I think that is what precipitated this. When you start looking at value, healthcare organizations started looking at patients as consumers, and consumers have a lot of choices in the market right now. Consumers go online to shop for their houses, their mortgages, their cars, their groceries, and they also have choices in their healthcare. Healthcare is beginning to recognize that patients have choices, and much of what they can offer a patient doesn’t just have to be within the four walls of the hospital.

Hillary Ross

Everyone says healthcare lags behind other industries, and we’ve definitely seen that with this role. The CDO has been in other industries for a long time, and now healthcare is starting to look at it as well. When we talk about this CDO, we’re really talking about the person that is going to be responsible for digital transformation across the healthcare ecosystem. It’s a critical business-focused role.

What are the key skillsets that a healthcare CDO should have?

It’s really about a confluence of experience and personal style. Personal style is critical to this position because this person is a change agent, their role is to take a health system’s belief system and change it. Their role is to bring digital automatization to the health system. It’s very much a forward-facing role more than an internal role. In terms of skillsets, ideally, this person would have experience leading digital transformation and have an understanding of the obstacles and challenges to deploying digital health as well as innovation and commercialization, and also have a background in technology.

We’re also seeing the rise of consumerism in healthcare. How does that intertwine with the CDO role?

The chief digital officer is focused on and obsessed with the patient and in creating choices for the patient, as well as patient engagement and patient experience, to keep existing patients and to drive new patients to the organization by connecting with them digitally and giving them choices.

Consumers’ expectations are changing, and they are used to having choices. Someone shared a story with me that brings this to life. A patient had a check-up with her doctor, and the doctor wanted her to get a heart exam. The doctor said it wasn’t covered by insurance and referred the patient to a facility that does heart scans at a cost of $250. She called her local hospital and found out that the hospital charges $450. She then went online and Googled “affordable heart scan” with her zip code and up popped a hospital 10 minutes from her house that was offering heart scans for $49. This story shows that patients are consumers, they are savvy, and they are going to start expecting more information and more choices. Hospitals that recognize this can drive new patients, keep patients, and ultimately drive revenue, but, all the time keeping their eye on the importance on the patient and excellent clinical care.

Are you seeing a lot of commonality with the roles and responsibilities of the CDO across organizations?

Organizations are trying to figure out this role; much the same way they tried to figure out the chief information officer (CIO) role 20 years ago.  Organizations had a director of technology, someone who ran the “break and fix shop,” and then emerged a CIO and that role has really expanded and evolved over the years to become an extremely critical and key leadership executive. Technology enables the strategic goals of an organization, and the CIO leads that.

Much the same way, organizations are now trying to figure out how best to position this [CDO] and who best to lead it, and it will be a process. We see some organizations combining this role with other roles. In my view, this role is huge; digital is here to stay and it requires full focus and attention. I don’t think combining the CDO role with other roles is the best approach, it will dilute the importance of digitalization.

What are your thoughts on the appropriate reporting structure for this role?

It should be reporting to the CEO, ideally, and a peer to the CIO. The best model is a tight partnership between the CIO and the CDO. In terms of partnership with other senior leadership, as well, this person really sits at the intersection of clinical, technology, marketing and senior leadership. It’s a very collaborative role to drive that organizational change.

How does the emergence of this role impact the CIO role?

Some organizations will combine the role with the CIO role, but I think it should be separate. The CIO is a critical component of an organization; the CIO runs information systems and oversees applications, clinical systems, revenue cycle, human resource systems, security, the data warehouse, and sometimes, analytics. And then to add digital transformation to that role, [the CDO role] is not going to garner the full-time support that this role needs, and it will end up being one-off innovations, like a cool app here, or a telemedicine program, which is all important. But, you need really need someone creating a digital strategy, leading that strategy, implementing it and driving these changes. It’s a full-time role. The whole next wave of patients are Millennials, and they are driven by digital. For organizations that want to position themselves well for that next wave of patients, digitalization requires full-time attention.

Are healthcare organizations looking outside healthcare to recruit for these CDO positions?

We’re seeing healthcare organizations now looking for leadership outside of healthcare, and it’s interesting to watch those organizations and how those leaders outside of healthcare are navigating. Certainly, if you recruit outside healthcare, there is a going to be a learning curve for those executives. Do they speak the language of healthcare, and do they understand the intricacies; reimbursement, readmission, length of stay, hospital business operations? Those executives can transition, but it will take time and it will take strong healthcare leadership under them to help them with that transition.

Many times, we’re asked to produce slates of these candidates that come from within healthcare and outside healthcare because they want to compare and contrast. Generally, we’re seeing healthcare leaders will end up selecting those candidates from within healthcare because they can hit the ground running and they know how to navigate the hospital and understand their issues. But, there are those organizations that are looking to really innovate and shake things up, and they think those leaders outside healthcare can bring that innovation and fresh look. Those executives might have different ideas on consumer engagement and will focus on translating those ideas to healthcare.

The bottom line is, healthcare is all about the patients and being clinically excellent. And the difference is, when you look at leaders outside healthcare, it’s about profit and the bottom line. It’s a different mentality and focus. Anyone that comes from outside of healthcare, this CDO, is going to have to be mission-driven and passionate about the patient.

Do you have any predictions about the next emerging role in healthcare?

This role will be it. A talented CDO will be the best person to identify those next great ideas in healthcare; that’s why this role is so important.

 


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Vanderbilt Announces Health IT Leadership Transition

November 6, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
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Patel to succeed Johnson as leader of VUMC HealthIT

Vanderbilt University Medical Center HealthIT has announced a change of leadership. In January 2019 Neal Patel, M.D., M.P.H., who has been VUMC’s chief health information officer, will succeed Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S., as HealthIT leader.

HealthIT’s responsibilities include informatics support for a broad scope of VUMC’s health system demands. Tools supplied and supported through HealthIT help enable VUMC to achieve its strategic objectives within the clinical, educational and research enterprises.

Johnson, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor, will continue to serve as chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI). A professor of pediatrics, he joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2002 and has been chair of the DBMI since 2012. He was named Senior Vice President for Health Information Technology in 2014.

During his tenure, Johnson served as leader for the multi-year, system-wide effort to replace its homegrown EHR with Epic, which went live in November 2017. Patel joined Johnson as co-lead during the Epic launch.

Through this leadership change, Patel will now report to John F. Manning Jr., PhD, MBA, Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Chief of Staff. “With Dr. Patel succeeding Dr. Johnson in this role, there is an assurance of continuity as we move forward. With our Medical Center and health system at an important inflection point, and in a period of significant growth, I want to express my appreciation to Neal for assuming these new responsibilities,” Manning said in a prepared statement.

Patel joined the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Critical Care in 1997. He was named Chief Medical Informatics Officer in 2006. His responsibilities in this role included leading efforts for translating the Medical Center’s healthcare delivery, quality and patient safety goals into informatics strategies to optimize the delivery of patient care.

 

 

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CHIME’s Russ Branzell: A Tech Revolution is Coming to Healthcare

November 2, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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The president and CEO of CHIME said at the association’s Fall CIO Forum this week that collaboration and being a community will be key steps to succeeding in the new healthcare

Healthcare CIOs, CMIOs and other top IT leaders are under increased pressure these days for a variety of reasons, and staying out in front of emerging health IT innovations, while maintaining a big-picture view of how digital transformation will affect business operations, are right at the top of the list.

Russell Branzell, president and CEO of CHIME (the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives) for the last six years, leads an executive organization which has a membership of a few thousand CIOs, CMIOs and other senior healthcare IT leaders. And with so much happening these days around technology innovation, new entrants into the market—some of which could be seen as potential disruptors—in addition to policy considerations and cybersecurity challenges, associations like CHIME are relied on to drive clinical IT executives in the right direction.

At the CHIME 2018 Fall CIO Forum in San Diego this week, Branzell sat down with Healthcare Informatics Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for CIOs, and what skills will be critical to success going forward. Below are excerpts from that interview.

I am sure you would agree that it’s both an exciting and anxious time in healthcare. What is top of mind right now for your members?

Yes, I think there is a duality to this that is exciting and scary at the same time. There are practical and technical challenges we are being faced with now, with one of the biggest being cybersecurity and the threats and pains in those areas. Organizations are changing to new models [of care], and there is also consumer engagement that is unique to this time period; it’s not the same old game we have always played.

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The most interesting thing coming at them, though, is this next wave of what we refer to as “fourth revolution technology” that’s on the way. So that means 5G [technology], robotics, biosensors, genetic manipulation, and neural networking. These are buzzwords, but the reality is that they are real. Things are coming at us, and we have not been able to deal with at this level of advanced technology before.

What we have done in the past is incrementally gain the existing technology that has been in play in healthcare for the last 30 years. So we are trying to keep the trains on time, advance the organization, help them get benefits realization, and move to a new care model of consumerism and value. But we also see this other thing coming down the track that will dramatically disrupt all this. While it’s a unique time, and a little bit scary, scary is another way to say “great opportunity.”

Is the traditional/current CIO ready for this revolution? 

We have always been able to keep up with the small, incremental learnings. We have had the CIO 2.0 model out for 15 years, and that brought people from the traditional technology environment to driving change in organizations. The difference now is, the new things coming at us will require us to learn at a pace we have never learned at before. There will be disrupters in the industry for us to adapt to and understand at a pace we have never understood before. Undoubtedly, the CIO 3.0, the health IT leader 3.0, and the digital leaders of the future will monumentally change their internal skillsets and how they work.

On the policy front, lots of relevant regulations are set to drop in the next few months. The administration has been aggressive thus far in its proposals for promoting interoperability, but some would argue that fundamental data sharing challenges need to be ironed out first. What is CHIME’s stance on this?

There is still a strong degree of gap between the reality of today and the things that need to be put in place to enable [interoperability]. Some of those things are relative to standards and the universal transport across the country from an information sharing perspective. The government is trying to say there shouldn’t be barriers to inhibiting things that we are being successful in.

San Diego offers a good example in that things are well put in place, health systems are willing to share, I would say that there is no ubiquitous information blocking here, and the organizations generally all want to do the right thing for the patient. So in this micro-environment, though a big city, they do a good job of sharing information and being interoperable with each other.

But now magnify that across California, and it’s a scale issue in which we don’t have in place the universal standards, identification, transport layer, agreements, and multi-state consent. So many things still need to be addressed, whether that’s through administrative rule, law, or presidential order, some things need to be addressed at a macro level to accelerate that last 10 percent. About 90 percent is being done in local environments. Most people don’t often leave their local environment to seek care. But for the 10 percent or so that do, these things are not quite in place yet.

I’ve been interested in reading CHIME’s comments on aligning 42 CFR Part 2 with HIPAA, though this provision was not passed in the recent opioids package. Could this be reconsidered down the road?   

We were disappointed that it wasn’t [included], but we also considered different areas of statute ownership, within the government, relative to this and we [knew] they had to get [the bill] out. We will still advocate for the alignment in these areas so that we could accelerate solutions and service the people who need the help. This was ubiquitous across all our membership, and this was something that could have been addressed, but what we heard was, and I understand this, that they needed to get this out [now], and then possibly the [alignment] piece could be bolted on later.

In this pressured current moment, what advice could you offer to CIOs?

Like never before there is a need for people to hone and advance their skills, and become educated in what’s coming down the tracks as far as advanced technologies, while also getting the solutions they already have in place to higher degrees of success. The answer to all of this will be about us being a community.

We have been successful here at CHIME for almost [three decades] in building this network, building the relationships, and building the trust environment that we need. We need to lean on each other. People do this in small pockets and big pockets, and to survive in the future, we will need to ubiquitously share with each other. You don’t want to have everyone invent and innovate locally; not that we shouldn’t in a micro sense, but in the macro sense, we have to share in ways that we never have before. 

I’ll use opioids as an example. If Anne Arundel [County in Maryland] and Geisinger Health System are the two best in the country [at fighting the opioid epidemic], why would the other 5,000 or so places go and start from square one. That makes no sense whatsoever, but that’s the way our industry has worked for a long time. They key to us solving problems is communication and collaboration.


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CHIME Hands Out Innovator, Transformational Leader Awards

October 31, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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At the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) 2018 Fall CIO Forum in San Diego, health IT executives were recognized today for their transformational and innovative leadership.

 

Omer Awan, senior vice president and CIO, Navicent Health in Macon, Ga., joined the patient care organization two years ago, but in just that short amount of time, he has changed the culture in his department and has elevated the profile of IT within the ranks of Navicent’s executive leadership, giving him a seat at the table as they carry out Navicent’s vision, according to CHIME officials who presented Awan with this year’s Transformational Leadership Award.

Awan said he institutionalized a framework that called for simultaneously strengthening their IT foundation, advancing the culture and innovating, always keeping in mind Navicent Health’s business needs. IT staff embedded themselves within other groups to better understand their programs and get more involved in problem solving and decision making. This process changed mindsets within the IT department and throughout the organization.

“IT has broken out of the shell of technology,” Awan said. “It is all over the place. It is in business; it is in the clinical areas. All of my IT managers and directors rewrote their job descriptions. They are not just managers and directors, they are solution partners. It was incumbent on them to know as much about their respective clinical and business areas.”

One of the organization’s specific IT-related successes has been the rollout of a real-time care coordination platform that serves as a one-stop shop for surgical staff and patients. The program, utilized for OrCarestra, Navicent Health’s surgical patients, has eliminated the use of faxes, phone calls and hand-written requests and added standardized processes. OrCarestra has shortened scheduling times, decreased scheduling errors, sped up financial clearances and allowed them to complete more cases faster, according to CHIME officials.

Also this morning at the Fall CIO Forum, CHIME presented Simon Lin, chief research information officer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, with its Innovator of the Year Award, citing Lin’s innovative approach to help pediatric burn victims through their recovery.

The Ohio patient care organization collaborated with the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research and the Pediatric Burn Unit at Nationwide Children’s to develop and pilot test a virtual reality app that immerses young patients in a game while clinicians remove and replace dressings. Preliminary results showed a dramatic reduction in reported pain scores compared to controls—a reduction achieved without altering pain medication.

Burn patients already are in distress from the pain that can occur during dressing changes, Lin said. Watching the process may intensify children’s trauma. The game, which requires patients to wear a headset, distracts them while the headset shields their view of the clinical activities going on around them. Patients can passively watch the game or they can actively engage in it using breathing controls that substitute for hand consoles.

The app itself has been well received, based on study results: 96 percent of patients reported satisfaction with the game; 100 percent of parents were satisfied; and 83 percent of physicians reported that virtual reality is helpful. Lin and his group are now conducting a larger study that stratifies children into three groups: active participants, passive watchers and a control group that will receive standard care. The long-term goal is to be able to reduce or eliminate the use of pain medications such as opioids in this patient population by using innovation.

“Simon’s virtual reality app is a perfect example of patient-centered care,” said CHIME Board Chair Cletis Earle, senior vice president and CIO at Kaleida Health. “They developed a tool that children will respond to–a game– and worked with clinicians to make sure it fits within their work flow. The result is a better experience for the patient with no added burden for clinicians. This is a win for everybody.”

 

 

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