Meeting of the Minds

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders Media, June 10, 2008

Earlier this year, some leading chief information officers gathered for an event that was touted by its sponsor, IT vendor Picis, as "Forward Thinking CIOs Debate Hot Issues Facing Hospitals in 2008." However, there was actually little debate—the panelists quickly reached consensus on any number of issues. They represented a diverse group of facilities, yet struck on multiple common themes.

The event showed the modern hospital CIO role as one requiring equal planting in operations and strategy. Representing San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare, Bill Spooner observed that demonstrating value to expensive IT systems would be one of his most pressing challenges in the near future. "We ought to take it as a personal challenge," he said. In the next breath, Spooner went on to note that the industry will be challenged by a new president and must cope with the growth of consumer-driven care. "If healthcare continues to consume more and more of our GDP, and our costs continue to go up, having consumers in charge of healthcare is not going to be wonderful for us."

Later, the discussion turned to the topic of system interoperability, the very cornerstone of deriving value from IT. Again, Spooner led the charge, expressing dismay that few vendors have adopted the continuity of care standard from HL7. Fellow panelist Richard McKnight, representing North Carolina-based Novant Health, echoed Spooner. "If somebody out there gets it right, we will probably crush them with new business because that is exactly what we are looking for." McKnight noted that although individual buyers lack adequate clout to compel IT vendors to adopt common standards, CIO user groups, acting collectively, could drive change. "If we continue to talk about it individually, it will take a much, much longer time, and the result will be less satisfactory."

Do I hear a call for government action in the making? Well, to be realistic, it's a long way from a CIO panel to Washington, DC. A more likely scenario might be that IT vendors listen up and act on the concerns of their customers. But even that scenario, as Spooner noted, is taking time to play out. Of course, the prospects of the "crush of new business" might get some attention in the software vendor corporate suites. Consensus has a way of making itself known.

Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at

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