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October 4, 2013 Readers Write 1 Comment

The Changing Physician-CIO Relationship: Do You have a Strong Partnership?
By Rob Culbert

10-4-2013 4-21-46 PM

Building a relationship is hard. Managing a successful and long-term partnership is even harder.

That’s what most healthcare chief information officers (CIOs) are finding out as they examine their rapport with physicians. Productive relationships take effort and a commitment to change. Successful healthcare organizations can strengthen the physician-CIO dynamic by making a concerted effort to involve physicians in their technology adoption efforts.

Consider these questions as you determine how your organization stacks up in fostering positive interactions with your physicians and what you need to do to build a stronger physician-CIO partnership.

What’s driving the changing relationship between your CIO and physicians?

In most healthcare organizations, physician and CIO responsibilities have historically been siloed—the CIO drove technology, physicians drove clinical care. Now the relationship is changing as physicians expect the hospital to provide greater technology support, which in turn allows the physician to provide higher quality care. More than ever, physicians demand a system that provides full access to both ambulatory and inpatient clinical data.

Yesterday’s hands off approach with physicians no longer works. Healthcare CIOs must employ an intentional strategy to involve their physician partners and meet their new requirements for support and information.

What specific roles are physicians playing in your technology deployment?

Technology is becoming more directly linked to patient care, so much so that physicians now expect systems that seamlessly support their work and improve efficiencies. This is even more the case with younger physicians, who grew up using technology and can’t imagine delivering care without it.

To capture physician opinions and requirements for technology, organizations may want to create a physician steering committee, which involves physicians in major decisions about system design, functionality, and content. Organizations are using these committees to fix and improve specific technology. For example, working as a subset of the steering committee, a physician ICD-10 committee may focus on the required workflow changes and corresponding system changes needed to support a smooth implementation of the new code set. After implementation, physician practice user groups can be leveraged to educate physicians on advanced features and to gain feedback for system adjustments.

Are you providing opportunities for physicians who don’t want to be heavily involved in technology?

It’s a fact: some physicians simply want to be doctors, not IT gurus. Yet, they still can provide a wealth of information through their frontline system knowledge. Avenues for feedback include physician surveys, informal focus groups, or even hallway conversations. Site visits to physician practices can clearly reveal how the system is being used and highlight opportunities for improvement. Garnering involvement and feedback from as wide an audience as possible leads to a healthy and dynamic physician-CIO rapport.

What benefits can your organization realize through physician-CIO alignment?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of physician-CIO alignment is that it’s just good for business – for the physician and the healthcare organization. Most practices don’t have the resources for a sophisticated IT structure with 24/7 support, clinical system protection, disaster recovery, and guaranteed uptime performance. However, healthcare organizations often have extensive IT capabilities and can provide the needed support and resources at a reasonable cost.

Healthcare organizations benefit because strong alignment between physicians and technology leaders can ultimately improve patient care and foster greater efficiency. In addition, it can positively impact a physician’s choice where to practice. Because most physicians want to partner with an organization that is responsive to physician involvement, this strengthened relationship allows organizations to be more competitive in recruiting and retaining physicians.

Strong physician-CIO interactions can also help a healthcare organization strategically position itself for quality improvement and agility with the coming healthcare legislation, ultimately improving payment and reimbursement rates for both parties.

Establishing and maintaining strong partnerships between physicians and technology leaders is essential to navigating the evolving healthcare landscape. As information technology becomes more critical to care delivery, the strength and resiliency of the physician-CIO relationship will determine your organization’s ability to successfully deliver quality care and maintain financial viability.

Rob Culbert is president and CEO of Culbert Healthcare Solutions.

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