Inside Healthcare Computing has graciously agreed to make previous Mr. HIStalk editorials available from its newsletter as a weekly "Best Of" series for HIStalk. This editorial originally appeared in the newsletter in June 2006. Inside Healthcare Computing subscribers receive a new editorial every week in their Electronic Update.
It’s hardly news that clinical system implementations in hospitals fail with astonishing regularity. Sometimes they explode in a huge fireball of organizational upheaval. Other times, they simply fail to deliver the benefits everyone expected. By failing, I’m referring to not just the IT part of the project, but the overall change management required to be successful.
It seems we as an industry don’t learn well from our past mistakes. We keep making the same ones over and over again. Many of those I’ve seen involve the role of the hospital CIO in the project.
CIOs rarely have a clinical background, most often having risen through the ranks of programming, managing, or consulting. I’m therefore postulating that they should not be given control over major clinical system implementations.
CIOs don’t always have the respect of physicians, nurses, and those other key clinical personnel actually carrying out the organization’s mission. They may be recognized as holding authority over needed hardware and software tools, but to most clinicians, the CIO is the besuited mid-level functionary whose job it is to say “no” to IT requesters who did not pay adequate homage when defining for themselves which technology tools would improve patient care. Since IT controls the budget, innovation is allowed only if committee-approved.
Some CIOs I’ve known made it their personal mission to set clinicians straight, convinced that without their wise paternal oversight, the wacky clinicians can’t be trusted with money or system selection power. Clinicians armed with reams of objective and factual system data are overridden with logic such as “It just doesn’t feel right” or “I know that company from another job or my peers,” which seems reasonable other than it fails to prevent the train wreck most of the time.
CIOs like to make executive decisions even when they’re ill equipped to do so. Since IT executives have little influence when they’re not making big decisions, they tend to relish the chance to buck convention or override carefully designed committees. Their veto power is absolute.
IT executives fear for their jobs, much more than they fear for the well-being of patients. They’ll override nurse informatics people nearly all of the time and MDs 50% of the time when it comes to delaying an implementation when faced with dangerous shortcomings. The most common reasons: (1) we’ve spent the money, so we have to go live; (2) it’s bad and not likely to get better, so we might as well go live, or (3) I promised my peers this system would work and I won’t tell them differently.
Should CIOs be involved in clinical systems projects? I honestly don’t know. Programmer-trained logic doesn’t add much value. Neither does having been involved with a similar project somewhere else or sporting an MBA. Golfing and free lunch vendor relationships seem to hurt more than they help.
Some of our big-name CIOs were directly involved in some of our big-name clinical systems failures, although the ensuing spin often hid that fact from everyone except the hospital employees and medical staff. Whether they made wise decisions or worried mostly about the Dilbert-esque world of timesheets and timelines I can’t say. But they’ve failed enough times that it’s worth trying something new.
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