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CEO: How to Integrate IT Staff and Mission

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 8, 2011

In last week's column, I wrote that healthcare information technology professionals who identify themselves as healthcare workers?as opposed to HIT workers?might be happier and more effective in their jobs.

This week I have a Q&A with Sheila Currans, CEO of the 61-bed Harrison Memorial Hospital in East Cynthiana, KY. Currans talks about the CIO's role in the C-suite, and how IT professionals can better communicate with others in the hospital, contribute to their organization's mission and strategy, and improve patient care.

HealthLeaders Media: In your organization, the CIO reports directly to you. What's the reasoning behind that?

Sheila Currans: We moved the CIO into that senior leadership [position] about eight years ago because we had so much coming down the road. It's just so much simpler if I can understand it all from the ground up. The CIO is part of the senior leadership. We meet regularly, and our meetings are primarily focused on our strategic planning for the care of the patient?not IT. CIOs should start thinking about how they support the mission. We've done that for several years and it's worked well.

IT is relatively new to the leadership arena. We're all used to the chief financial officer or the chief nursing officer. But the CIO is relatively a new position. And, unfortunately, I think too often it's been relegated to a basement support service. Today's world puts IT as an integral part of healthcare. It's going to touch everything that happens for the patient.

HLM: Why do IT professionals, in particular, have trouble communicating with other leaders?

SC: I've been accused of speaking with too many acronyms, abbreviations, and technical language. IT folks have their list of acronyms just like a lot of other folks do. But theirs seem very technical. They can get frustrated when people don't understand them. It's important to help them understand that you have to send a message to people and they have to hear it and understand it. They've got to communicate the same language that the rest of the hospital or the health system communicates.

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