Thinking like a chief information officer

By David Camilleri*
Tuesday, 04 April, 2017

Thinking like a chief information officer

These days, the chief information officer — or CIO — isn’t just the person who keeps the computers running.

In hospitals and other large healthcare facilities, like most organisations, technology has become key to achieving organisational goals. These might include: better patient outcomes via better record keeping and fewer administrative distractions; e-health initiatives such as the tracking of surgical instruments or telehealth for rural patients; or improving cost efficiencies to enable investment in other areas.

The golden rule is: organisational outcomes first, operational buy-in second and technology third — a mindset that could also benefit senior health administrators; it’s all about the result, not the tools used.

Ultimately, the CIO is not just thinking about the day-to-day — but thinking ahead of the game, to create the strategy that will best deliver the business’s goals.

Many of the issues facing CIOs are similar to those in the health administration arena.

In health, like other industries, there are competing desires to standardise process for cost reasons, while simultaneously personalising messages based on information about a customer (or patient) age, interests and situation. With the help of data and automation, the two goals need not always be in conflict. For example, a post-discharge health promotion campaign could accurately target information appropriate to the demographic profile of each patient.

Large organisations inevitably build up layers and layers of complex direction as to correct processes and standards — and healthcare facilities are a prime example.

CIOs are not opposed to processes, but are opposed to unnecessary, or unnecessarily complex, processes. CIOs review processes, assessing why they exist, whether they serve the intended purpose and, if not, if they can be simplified or eliminated. In healthcare terminology, they are strongly ‘evidence based’.

Good CIOs keep operational staff and requirements top of mind, knowing day-to-day business-as-usual needs to continue during technology development periods and that the operational staff will need to use the results of their work for it to be of any benefit.

Quality frameworks such as ISO certification can also help CIOs and other business leaders, including hospital executives, ensure their standards are achieving what they set out to do and that the organisation is focusing on priorities.

The increasing pace of change means the CIO must develop strategy for the short, medium and long term but cannot afford to set it in stone; strategy needs to be monitored and adjusted based on changes in rules, business priorities, new knowledge or market demands. In a healthcare setting, that might translate into new research changing practice, new policies or laws associated with a change in government or enterprise agreements with staff.

CIOs need to be across not only developments in their organisations, but in their competitors’ organisations and industry more broadly.

However, good CIOs do not attempt to do everything themselves. They know their strengths, and build a team to fill the gaps — just as medical care is delivered by a team of professionals with complementary skills.

They also recognise some things are not the organisation’s core strengths — and outsource if someone else can do a better or more efficient job. For businesses, that might mean outsourcing call centres. In a healthcare facility, it could apply to patient records storage, transcriptions, facilities management and bookings management — on the proviso that quality suppliers are available.

Ultimately, improving these processes could give hospital staff more time and focus to deliver better patient outcomes.


Fast facts

  • Technology needs to facilitate organisational goals — the golden rule is outcomes first, operational buy-in second, technology third.
  • Personalisation need not conflict with standardisation — automation can help.
  • Fight unnecessary processes or unnecessarily complex processes when possible using an evidence-based approach. Ensure you have documentation, a governance framework and business sign-off early in any technology development.
  • Data security needs constant attention.
  • Outsourcing areas which are not core strengths can enable staff to focus on other areas which are more important to patient outcomes.

*David Camilleri is Executive General Manager of mi-Clinic and a former CIO having led numerous, high-level infrastructure overhauls encompassing organisational, operational and technological change for companies including MedHealth, IBM and CPA Australia.

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