The Changing Role Of Healthcare CIOs

How CIOs are becoming healers

Flashback 15 years: If you were a hospital chief information officer (CIO), the chances are you and your team were affectionately known as “the IT guys.” Networks were unstable, hardware was unreliable and integration between users (let alone departments) was a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Today, CIOs continue to face pressures for immediacy in solving problems at their hospitals. However, they have now become even more important; they have become strategic contributors to organizational leadership.

The role of the CIO today is less about being a technologist and more about leveraging technology for the overall advancement of the healthcare organization. Perhaps most novel, the CIO’s responsibilities are no longer isolated to the business or finances of hospital operations, instead taking on a distinct clinical role. More accurately, hospital CIOs have the opportunity to contribute in substantive ways to the quality of care delivered by their organizations.

The Magic Of Electronic Health Records

Perhaps the most transformational event in this evolution of CIO roles at hospitals occurred when electronic health records transitioned to a mandated element of healthcare data storage. The thinking was logical enough: Convert patients’ clinical records into a format that can be easily accessed by all the care givers contributing to patients’ treatment. Shared access could theoretically eliminate medical errors, reduce the occurrence of adverse drug interactions,, and minimize redundant diagnostic tests and treatments. Moreover, widespread use of EHRs would expedite medical decisions and, ultimately, reduce cost.

Well, the magic of EHRs hasn’t truly revealed itself yet, in part because healthcare professionals in acute care settings have faced continuing challenges with interoperability. And while EHR utilization marked a shift where the CIO was, to some degree, participating in clinical operations, his (or her) role was more focused on selecting a system and making sure it could “speak” to the hospital’s existing legacy systems.

Most significantly, the adoption of EHRs was mandated, not voluntary. So while the CIO had entered the clinical care arena, she (or he) was not driving the innovation.

Now, that’s changing.

Decision Support Business Intelligence Technology

New decision support technology offers the CIO a novel opportunity to advance the quality of care and to actually contribute to improving patients’ medical outcomes. Using a range of technology solutions that aggregate, process, and display clinical data, care givers-mostly doctors and nurses-get the vital information they need to make moment-by-moment decisions in the course of patient care.

At Brandix i3, our clients are using decision support software to improve patient care in the intensive care unit, the emergency department, and on medical/surgery units. In many circumstances, the CIO is the force behind this technology adoption.

Of course, clinicians remain central to the process and the configuration of this software, but it has become more collaborative than ever before. For example, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) added reporting requirements for the occurrence of severe sepsis or sepsis shock to its outcomes measurements for hospital safety, we worked with our clients’ CIOs to develop a technology solution that would not only satisfy CMS reporting requirements, but would also improve care quality. The result: The Sepsis DART solution licensed from Ambient Clinical Analytics monitors patient vitals and lab data to indicate a patient may develop sepsis or septic shock, and the system alerts a pre-determined set of caregivers, so they can intervene before the patient becomes sicker.

Similarly, the YES Board tool allows doctors and nurses in a multitude of clinical environments to identify the status of patients and to visualize that data in an easy-to-read and easy-to-see interface. It literally gives the clinical team an at-a-glance view of the patients in their charge, so they can ensure smoother patient flow, quickly assess their health status and receive early warnings when intervention is required.

CIOs are applying technology to care in the ICU as well. Like YES Board, AWARE software monitors the health status of patients in the ICU. More than just oxygen levels and heart rate, AWARE monitors data specific to the patient’s health circumstances, processing information about organ systems and the like to allow doctors and nurses to make better clinical decisions.

Mortality Review Systems

The above mentioned technologies typify how the CIO can make an impact on patient care, in real time. The CIO can also contribute to a hospital’s care-giving process after the fact.

The Mortality Review System (MRS) integrates with a hospital’s electronic health record and makes it possible to evaluate every patient death that occurs in the facility. By examining all the steps that occurred prior to a patient’s death-for every patient that dies-the MRS can detect system frailties common to multiple patients. Then, working with the clinical team and operations team, process improvement changes can be made.

CIO As Healer
In all these examples, clinicians remain both the providers of care and the deciders of care. However, today, the CIO is giving these clinicians the tools to do their jobs better. Indeed, the CIO is becoming a healer.

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