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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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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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