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Advice to healthcare CIOs: Be willing to share wins and losses

Being a successful CIO means building relationships across the healthcare industry and establishing a good team within an organization, the CHIME-HIMSS CIO of the Year says.

Ed Kopetsky didn't graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a dual master's in systems engineering and healthcare administration to become a CIO. In fact, he isn't convinced the job description existed at the time.

But 30 years later, it's a role Kopetsky, CIO at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children's Health, has come to know well. Looking back on his career, which includes being a founding member of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Kopetsky has seen firsthand how the role of the healthcare CIO has evolved from back-office administrators to security experts and change managers.

In this Q&A, Kopetsky, the 2018 John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year recipient, who will be honored at next month's CHIME-HIMSS CIO Forum, talks about the challenges healthcare CIOs face and why networking has been and continues to be critical to his success.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

What drew you to the field of health IT and particularly to the role of the CIO?

Ed KopetskyEd Kopetsky

Ed Kopetsky: Early on in my career -- I mean right out of college -- I started with the Veterans Administration [VA]. It ended up they were going to launch their new information system, which is still running. I actually helped in the development of that and led a region of 26 hospitals in the VA initially, and that's what led me to stay in the IT space.

Healthcare CIOs have seen significant change during your career. How have they -- how have you -- survived?

Kopetsky: I think it was being at the leading edge of change for all those years and networking with others as we were learning what we were doing. I was chairman of CHIME for a while, and in the year I was chairman, in 1998, we brought physician partners to our conference for the first time. We were only 6 years old as a group, but we saw it emerging that there was no way we were going to succeed in clinical system automation without clinician partners. It wasn't just a technology thing. Now, the CIO role has emerged, the CMIO [chief medical information officer] role emerged and so many others since then. But I think it was key to network with others and be willing to share wins and losses, what did we learn. I think that drastically advanced the industry and also kept me engaged.

What are some of the biggest challenges healthcare CIOs have had to overcome?

You've got to be a leader and visionary for change and improvement.
Ed KopetskyCIO, Stanford Children's Health

Kopetsky: One of our biggest challenges is keeping alignment around our goals, because there are so many needs … I think the top two things we face in this market is, first and foremost, staffing. There are just not enough people in the industry, and it's growing. We've done pervasive EHR deployment over the last seven years in the country, and now, we're starting to leverage it. Now, we can start to look into the data to find new knowledge, but that's going to take a whole lot of people and, in the Bay Area, that's very difficult. We do a good job here of that, but it takes the right culture to attract people.

The other thing that's really unfortunate for CIOs and kind of sad that we're in healthcare and dealing with this, but security has become such a threat. The constant battle -- it's astounding. We're constantly being attacked. That's become a top three to five now for CIOs, and 10 years ago, that wasn't the case. That, unfortunately, is one of the things that is part of the business now.

How would you define the role of a healthcare CIO? What does it take to be one today?

Kopetsky: I had a mantra 30 years ago: Always hire people better than me. That's still the truth. With the breadth of what we do today, there's no way the top person can be the technical expert. But they have to be a trusted partner with the executives and the leadership team and customers -- our patients.

You've got to have great people working with you, and you've got to be a developer of others. You're not the project manager; you're the change leader. The other thing is: We're all learning, so network with people across the industry in all aspects of the industry … I can't emphasize it enough: You have to frame yourself as a healthcare leader and executive. If you're not that, you're not going to make it as a CIO. You've got to be a leader and visionary for change.

What advice do you have for modern healthcare CIOs?

Kopetsky: Learn from others … and be a servant leader. Continue to learn from others, including your staff and your peers, your team and others. If you do that, everyone's going to help. If you try to dominate, you might be an expert in the moment, but nobody's going to be following you tomorrow.

This was last published in January 2019

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