By Timothy R. Zoph

Healthcare IT is rapidly approaching a new era-one in which collaboration will be vital.

pg40_column-tim-zophWe are moving beyond task-oriented technology implementation, such as obtaining meaningful use incentives, and are beginning to realize the true value of technology in terms of measurable returns in productivity, cost, and patient outcomes.

If the evolution of other service industries is any guide, all evidence suggests that achieving IT success is a collective leadership challenge. In the end, benefits from technology are delivered by enlightened teams of healthcare leaders with the CIO in the intersection as an active contributor to both the strategy and technology.

The Preparation Ahead

As healthcare leaders come together to govern, sponsor, and execute value-driven technology, they should consider the following topics.

Optimization. In our efforts to rapidly acquire, install, and adopt technology, healthcare organizations now own a lot of technology with unrealized capabilities. Unlocking the potential of these technologies to improve quality or reduce costs demands collaboration between IT, finance, and performance improvement. In an increasingly cost-constrained environment, we must optimize what we have and make disciplined choices.

Business analytics. We must harness information so that it intelligently guides care, helps us study what works, and demonstrates value. This is a prerequisite step toward accountable care. Ultimately, it's about delivering actionable, trusted information to empower our frontline staff so that they are mindful of larger issues as they go about the daily work of positively impacting the patient experience and clinical outcomes.

Patient-centered solutions. Going forward, patient and consumer expectations will demand that we embrace interactive tools, such as portals and mobile applications, to connect with patients, physicians, and employees. Technology will allow for personalization and portability. Patient satisfaction will no longer be exclusively tied to the space and time of a patient visit to your facilities.

Innovation and creativity. With our core technology systems in place, leaders will be faced with new tools that allow organizations to build or adapt technology in creative and innovative ways that are unique to their brand and patient experience. This is a fundamental shift from our historical vendor-driven systems and their acquisition and installation approach. A talented IT team, in collaboration with organizational stakeholders, will be able to take ownership for more of their IT destiny by, for example, redesigning user interfaces or developing new application modules.

Governance and standards. As we have discovered, IT is too costly and critical to be evaluated with any less rigor than any other capital investment. Along the way, the systems we acquired were from a departmentally-based and function/feature orientation, leaving organizations with a complex and costly array of systems. In the future, we need to operate from a standards-based technology architecture, trending toward a more simplified and rational base of core systems.

A Call for Collaboration

This is an exciting and daunting landscape for healthcare leaders. Although there is good reason to pause and plan for this coming era of change, there is also reason for optimism. Incentives have accelerated technology adoption, and the industry is positioned to begin to maximize the benefits of our investments. One certainty is that how we govern and lead IT, in new collaborative and innovative ways, will be our measure of success. Let's look forward and plan together for the exciting changes ahead. I welcome your thoughts and comments.  


Timothy R. Zoph is senior vice president, administration/CIO, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, Chicago. To contact Zoph about this column, email the Leadership editor and we will forward your email to Zoph. 

Publication Date: Thursday, March 01, 2012