I’ve taken a few clinical informaticists under my wing over the last couple of years. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am still baffled that organizations expect someone to take a lead role with clinical software but don’t give them any training or support. I’m not talking about software training (although that may be a factor) but rather assistance with the skill set needed to manage the things that are about to come their way.
Clinical informaticists come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of titles and varying levels of experience. That’s the first thing I tell them – to forget about what their title might be and figure out what their duties actually are. The second thing to do is to figure out whether they have the skills to tackle their given areas of responsibility and to put together a plan to prepare for them.
Organizations tend to be penny-wise and pound foolish in this regard. They expect physicians to learn many of these things on the job, but sometimes forget to tell teams they’re responsible for helping to build that provider. That can create fiction among the teams and is often a challenge when providers are not comfortable with exposing a lack of knowledge and need for assistance.
In my first CMIO-type job, I was responsible for managing clinical content for a good-sized outpatient medical group. There was a team of young-ish (well, at least younger than me after umpteen years of training and medical practice) analysts that held the keys to the system as far as modifications were concerned. I was overwhelmed in my role (trying to do the job in four hours a week) and trusted that they were being straight with me.
They weren’t too keen on trying to help me learn the back side of the EHR. The IT team didn’t budget any time for me to go to training other than what I had as an end user. I decided to dig in with the system’s user manual and, believe it or not, read it cover to cover.
That experience was a serious eye-opener. First, I learned that the system had many more capabilities than I knew of. Second, I learned that my team had been snowing me as far as how challenging various configurations and customizations really would be if we wanted to perform them.
The trick was figuring out how to leverage my new knowledge without letting the team know I had discovered the mismatch between their work capacity and the product delivered. In hindsight, the portable putting green and disc golf equipment in their part of the office should have been a clue.
Although I tell them to try to forget about the title, it can be important especially if the title indicates the level of respect or support a clinical informaticist will have in the broader organization. My first stab at this was as a medical director. The CMIO title wasn’t even an option, as there had never been one and the CIO stated he didn’t feel it was necessary to have a CMIO. In itself, that gave me significant insight as to what I was signing up for. However, the only other titled physician leader was also a medical director and that was reassuring.
Regardless of the title, the ambulatory arm of the organization positioned me well and publicly explained my role and responsibilities as far as approving clinical content and working with providers to optimize the EHR implementation and ongoing use. This was important when physicians pushed back in areas that were clearly in my realm because I knew I could count on leadership to back me.
Unfortunately, some of my new colleagues are facing less than optimal situations. One is already chief of service in his procedural subspecialty at the hospital (with all the committee meetings and responsibilities that go with that) and yet is charged with leading a rollout for a largely ambulatory medical group. Although he’s very interested in clinical informatics and has done some coursework, the deck is already somewhat stacked against him.
The odds are also not in his favor regarding how the leadership positions him. Although they’re publicly telling physicians he is going to “run” the application team and “lead” implementations, the staff actually reports in a different vertical whose top leader is openly hostile to the idea of physician leadership. He’s gone on record as saying that CMIOs are “useless” and it does not appear anything has been done to modify the behavior or to ensure public support of the new physician leader.
I’ve seen that before firsthand, when IT and operational teams had difficulty working together. In one organization where I worked, the project’s executive sponsor forced the IT director and the operations director to have regular breakfast meetings with a report out of the issues they were working on to build their relationship and ability to collaborate. No one likes being “forced” to play nice, but sometimes that type of structured intervention is helpful (and often necessary).
In addition to title and responsibilities, the other thing newly minted clinical informaticists need to address up front is compensation. There are still organizations out there that think the job can be done under the “other duties as assigned” clause of the job description. Unless a clinician is only expected to manage a narrow window of content or functionality, it’s just not realistic.
I’m a full-time CMIO (my clinical practice is all on the side, outside of my primary employer’s control) and trying to manage user needs, application limitations, regulatory requirements, accountable and value-based care, and everything else requires coordination with multiple teams and resources. Compensation needs to be appropriate for the level of work being done as well as the responsibility involved and the overall impact to the organization.
Compensation should also include a budget for continuing education in informatics as well as the calendar protection needed to attend sessions and spend time gathering new skills. In my first medical director position, I actually lost my continuing education budget because our bylaws decreed that only full-time clinical physicians received CME funding. It took me 18 months to get training courses approved through our IT staff development budget, which specifically excluded CME courses. Talk about a Catch-22.
Being a CMIO, medical director, director of medical informatics, or clinical champion — or in my case, Jayne of All Trades — can be a rewarding experience. It’s even more so when organizations are committed to setting us up for success, although that’s not always the case.
Have a CMIO horror story? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.