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Digital transformation projects are an opportunity for healthcare CIOs

Geisinger Health System CIO John Kravitz gives advice on how healthcare CIOs can lead a digital transformation project within their own organizations.

IT departments are central to digital transformation projects in healthcare. But for those projects to be successful, healthcare CIOs will need to ensure they're ticking off the basic IT checklist while pushing their departments into new territory.

John Kravitz, CIO at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Penn., said digital transformation, or the use of digital technology to change how healthcare operates and delivers care, requires healthcare CIOs to think outside the box and consider new, digital ways to make IT and the overall health system operate more efficiently.

"Looking at transformation and how we're about to approach that in IT, it's extremely important that we take off the blinders and we look at things in a different way," Kravitz said.

Before pursuing a digital transformation project, healthcare CIOs should start with the fundamentals such as making sure the healthcare organization has a solid IT infrastructure in place, according to Kravitz. At the 2019 CHIME Fall CIO Forum, Kravitz and Judy Kirby, CEO of executive search firm Kirby Partners in Heathrow, Fla., talked about why that strong IT foundation is so important and how healthcare CIOs can successfully lead digital transformation projects.

Building a strong foundation

Today's healthcare CIOs are expected to be experts on emerging technology, yet they're also tasked with IT basics like keeping the lights on.

Kirby Partners CEO Judy KirbyJudy Kirby

"Organizations are saying, 'We've got to be digital; we've got to be transformational,'" Kirby said. "Yet they're really confused on what that means and how to get there."

For healthcare CIOs to lead digital transformation projects, Kirby said it's necessary to get four things right first:

  1. Focus on the fundamentals

To get started, Kirby said it's vital healthcare CIOs take stock of how the IT infrastructure is performing. Having an IT system that functions "exceptionally" can provide a strong foundation for digital transformation projects, she said.

"If you don't have the IT train on the track, you can't transform," Kirby said. "So, you've got to do that first, you've got to do it well, you've got to do it exceptionally."

She recommended CIOs use key performance indicators to set expectations for IT employees and to provide transparent metrics on what they need to deliver on, she said.

  1. Build up health IT leaders

Building a successful IT team means identifying weak links and finding ways to make the entire team stronger, Kirby said. Healthcare CIOs will need strong leaders to be digital transformation ambassadors, and their success will hinge on relationships within the healthcare organization. CIOs can lead by example to demonstrate how to build those relationships and provide good service, she said.

Kirby gave the example of a successful CIO who "insists on rounding," or going out into the healthcare organization to assess employee needs and to foster relationships between IT and the clinical staff.

"When he sends his CTO out there to round, they don't go by themselves," she said "They go with one of their technicians who has a cartful of goodies -- monitors, cables -- so that when [they encounter] an issue, they try to fix it right there."

  1. Keep the IT team engaged

Healthcare CIOs should engage their teams not just by setting expectations but by helping them meet realistic goals and celebrating the victories along the way. Celebrating success can go a long way in keeping the team engaged, she said.

"Don't just make it when something large is going on, celebrate a lot," Kirby said. "It keeps them happy, it keeps them successful, it keeps them wanting to do better and wanting to do more. I know you're busy, but take the time."

For Kirby, engagement also means taking the time to help the IT team grow and develop, she said.

  1. Communicate

Lastly, healthcare CIOs need to communicate frequently, in detail and in a way that is easy to understand, Kirby said.

"If there's one thing we hear when we're out there doing site visits, it's, 'We want a great communicator,'" Kirby said.

Leading digital transformation

Geisinger's Kravitz comes at digital transformation from firsthand experience.

Looking at transformation and how we're about to approach that in IT, it's extremely important that we take off the blinders and we look at things in a different way.
John KravitzCIO, Geisinger Health System

While Kirby talked about the importance of building a strong foundation to support digital transformation projects, Kravitz spoke about how healthcare CIOs can then drive that transformation within their healthcare organizations.

He said successful digital transformation projects need executive leadership support. CIOs charged with leading the effort not just across IT but across the whole organization should make sure the IT and executive leadership teams are in sync on goals. Doing so presents a vision to employees and sets clear priorities.

Geisinger Health System CIO John KravitzJohn Kravitz

Kravitz said a good place to start is to identify three to five processes critical to the organization and then find ways to change and enhance those processes through digitization, such as making it easier for low-acuity patients in emergency rooms to receive care via telemedicine visits instead of waiting hours for an in-person visit.

"Look at those types of things where you make it a lot simpler, a lot cleaner," Kravitz said. "Look at all the opportunities within your health system for faster service."

Digital transformation isn't just a top-down project, according to Kravitz. He said healthcare CIOs need to also start at the bottom by establishing performance targets for employees. Here, it's important to assess and measure productivity, set clear goals and benchmark those goals, Kravitz said.

Kravitz said healthcare CIOs should also help to create a governance committee of executive and IT leaders from across the organization. The committee is charged with keeping the healthcare organization on the same page during the digital transformation effort. It is also responsible for establishing a communication program that provides regular progress updates and includes meetings for the project. Finally, it should work to develop what Kravitz called a "digital narrative" that will be used to explain the project and get buy-in from employees.

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