View from the Bridge

An interim CMIO can bridge a critical and unique clinical gap

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The one constant of healthcare is change, and change is always difficult. Healthcare systems, large and small, need to manage change in how they care for their communities and in the individual leaders they have supporting care delivery. It is important to maintain continuity when an individual leader leaves an organization.
The Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) is a physician who has deep understanding of clinical operations in both the acute care and the ambulatory settings. If the organization has a Chief Nursing Information Officer (CNIO) or a Chief Health Information Officer, the CMIO will be expected to partner closely with them. The CMIO must have broad technical knowledge and skills, along with organizational, management, and executive aptitude and experience. This individual is an ‘interface’ between the clinical staff, technical groups, and the executive leadership. Their most important function is assimilation of information (usually needs and desires) and communication between the various stakeholder groups. Understanding how the various clinical roles interact, who reports to whom, and who is responsible for the various clinical and operational activities is a must-have for success. Depending on the size of the organization and requirements/responsibilities for the position, some CMIOs may have a limited clinical role in addition to their administrative and executive duties.

An interim CMIO has the added challenge of balancing the expertise they bring with the needs and expectations of the health system leadership and clinical staff. An interim CMIO is usually selected because of their knowledge and experience in dealing with the current challenges facing the health system. It is important for the arriving CMIO that they walk a fine line between challenging those ideas and existing processes that are not working while avoiding disruption of the processes that may be working but sub-optimally – they must seamlessly integrate into the culture of the institution.

Whether you come in as an interim or permanent CMIO, you must quickly establish your bona fides with the medical staff. The incoming CMIO must understand the technical environment, the limitations and strategic plans for expansion and updates, and be able to explain the rationale to their medical community. A good CMIO is readily accepted by their colleagues as a ‘real doc’, someone who truly understands the needs and pressures of clinicians caring for patients in the acute and ambulatory settings – someone who has experience dealing with the scheduling pressures, the resource challenges, and the requirements of the clinical information system. The medical staff can very quickly determine if the person in the CMIO role really understands their day-to-day issues, and will often challenge the CMIO to measure their mettle. Finally, the CMIO must have deep understanding of the business and operational requirements of the health system and the executive leadership.

Coming into a new CMIO position requires great flexibility and readiness to adapt to change and culture. You must quickly understand the needs and expectations of the medical staff, the technical and operations teams, and the leadership. You should quickly assess your staff members’ strengths and areas for improvement and understand their responsibilities. You should prioritize a set of actions for the immediate, short term, and long-term and develop an action plan with your staff and the medical staff leadership to validate and accomplish it. It is crucial that you understand the history of change and any current expectations and problems to avoid missteps in actions or perceived intentions.

Regardless of reporting relationships, as an interim CMIO you must validate your action plan with the Chief Information Officer and Chief Medical Officer to be sure your plans align with the priorities of these two leaders.

If you find yourself in need of an interim CMIO or CNIO, turn to StarBridge Advisors. We have seasoned clinical leaders who have experience serving large and small healthcare organizations. We will match the optimal interim leader with your unique needs and organization profile.

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