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The Overloaded Healthcare CIO

In an environment that is constantly moving and pretty much overwhelming for healthcare CIOs, it would seem that the last thing a CIO would want or need would be additional responsibilities.  Having worked in the field of Health information Technology for the past 26 years (11+ as a Health System CIO), I have seen the role of the HIT leader change over time.  Yet recent conversations with CIOs that have taken on new areas of responsibility raise the question:  How much can be taken on and still remain effective? (and sane for that matter).

In recent years I have witnessed movement of Telecommunications, Decision Support and Bio-medical Engineering under the IT leader.  These trends really do make sense considering the convergence of IT in these areas, however the new roles represent huge incremental workloads.

Some of the more interesting departmental shifts that I have seen include ‘Quality’, Case Management and even Behavioral Health.  Clearly, the industry’s movement toward pay-for-performance, quality reporting and population management will require tight integration between IT and clinical areas… but Behavioral Health was a bit of a surprise!  Considering the need of a CIO to deal with general craziness, it may not be so much of a stretch.  The best CIOs need to counsel, relieve stress and talk administrators (and physician colleagues) off the ledge on a regular basis.

All of this points to a reality that CIO’s must grapple with:  how to continuously take on larger, more influential roles in their organizations, with an already-stretched schedule, and the ever-present challenge of limited resources?  One answer is to make sure that you have solid IT partners immersed in your world, to assist on a strategic level.  We need accountable partners to share in the responsibilities in which they have solid contributions to make.  When our vendors have the right level of experience and expertise, our assessment and procurement exercises can become educational, and part of our strategic planning process.

Jim Cavanagh, Executive Director, New Jersey Health Information Network, Former CIO

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