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The IT Docs

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 15, 2010
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If you've ever wondered whether you should add a chief medical information officer to your organization's C-suite but are unsure how—or if—the relationship between a clinician and a technician would work, consider the advice of these CIO-CMIO pairs who say they've figured out the secret to success—and they can prove it.

Do we need a CMIO?

More than half (55%) of IT executives say their organization has both a CIO and a CMIO, according to a survey by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. Smaller organizations with fewer than 200 beds were most likely to have only a CIO position, while organizations with more than 400 beds were more likely to have both.

"Every organization, regardless of size, needs a CMIO," says Edward Marx, CIO at Texas Health Resources in Arlington, TX. While smaller hospitals can benefit from even a part-time CMIO, larger ones might even need more than one clinician in their IT department, he says. At THR, 30% of IT staff members are certified clinicians—and the 13-hospital system recently added its first chief nursing information officer.

What does the CMIO do?

When Ferdinand Velasco, MD, took on the CMIO role at THR he served mostly as a liaison between clinicians and IT staff. Since then, however, the role has become more strategic and managerial—and that's a growing trend nationwide, he says. "Throughout the country, the CMIO role is beginning to transition to be less IT-focused and more focused on the clinical aspects of the role. So that's why you're starting to see some CMIOs that report to chief medical officer."

Just as important, perhaps, is what a CMIO is not: a human shield for IT leaders who don't want to deal with irate clinicians. "There is a danger that the CMIO is just seen as a person who puts out the fires," Velasco says. "That's not going to be a long-term solution."

Jon Morris, CMIO at WellStar Health System in Marietta, GA, agrees that the CMIO must be more than a spokesperson. "Don't misunderstand: I'm out there selling a lot of the time, but I also act as an interpreter [and] facilitate engagement of other providers."

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