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A View from the Top

June 26, 2008
by Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
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Behind every outstanding CIO is a CEO who gets it.

We interview CIOs all the time for both our traditional magazine-style stories and our one-on-one Web exclusives. These conversations are wide ranging, covering everything from leadership perspectives to implementation specifics. One of our favorite lines of questioning drills down on the CEOs they work for, to discover how the boss can contribute to, or hinder, CIO effectiveness. Because we usually talk to IT leaders that are finding some measure of success, it's not surprising their CEOs are cast in a positive light.

But not everyone is so lucky. I'm sure some reading this column work for the other type of CEO, the one that has you reporting to a tough-as-nails CFO who's got you on budgetary lockdown.

Doing it right

Almost everybody in healthcare IT knows of John Glaser, Ph.D., the highly-esteemed CIO of Partners HealthCare in Boston (Glaser sits on the HCI Editorial Board). Glaser, to me, has the industry's ear because he blends optimism and achievement with caution and reason. For example, I've often heard him emphasize that the goal for healthcare systems should not be to go paperless just for the sake of saving trees, but paper light where it makes sense and improves care.

When I found out that Glaser's boss, CEO James Mongan, M.D., won an award for championing IT, I set up an interview to learn why. Reviewing the interview, I'm amazed by how in tune the two C-suite executives are in their approach and philosophy.

On vision

Mongan has a clear, overarching vision for all IT spending. And like Glaser's, his is not about implementing technology for its own sake. Mongan's goals for the organization are two-fold: to use EMRs to weave Partners hospitals and ancillary facilities into a cohesive healthcare system (rather than just a collection of legally connected hospitals under one corporate umbrella); and to improve care by leveraging IT for clinical decision support and disease management. If an IT spend furthers either of those objectives, Mongan says, go for it.


I've talked to a number of people about the healthcare IT work going on in the Boston area, and the usual response I get goes something like this: “Well, they can do that in Boston, but we could never do it here.” And though I've never heard it spoken, I'm sure a number of CIOs have thought, “I could never get my clinicians to do that. John Glaser can do it because he's John Glaser.”

In my interview with Mongan, he sheds light on Glaser's effectiveness. His CIO, Mongan says, has attained “throw weight” by cultivating relationships with key clinicians, taking the time to build alliances and engender respect. These alliances are key, as they pay tremendous dividends when clinicians are (at least initially) slowed while learning a new system.

On what it takes

When asked about the most important CIO qualities, Mongan's list is apt but intimidating. I've often said I truly enjoy my job because I get to interview healthcare CIOs — complex people, required to master an array of disparate skills for success. Healthcare CIOs remind me of architects I've always admired (or envied) for their blend of science-savvy left brain and artistic creativity right-brain skills. Solid CIOs, he says, need judgment, intelligence, experience, people skills, communication abilities and, of course, deep technical knowledge. They must embrace “dialogue and consultation” with (occasionally obstinate) clinicians.

On leadership

To those looking for a simple formula for leadership, Mongan's answer provides little succor. His guidance, while helpful, is Goldielocks-ian (not too much, not too little, just right). A leader, he says, needs to be out in front, but not too far; focused on details, but not lost in them; involved in projects, but not a micromanager.

Mongan and Glaser have obviously found kindred spirits in each other. Before analyzing your CEO, I think it best to start with yourself. I think I'll do the same.

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief

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