Probst shares insights from his career journey with HealthLeaders.
Intermountain Healthcare vice president and chief information officer Marc Probst, MBA, who key industry associations credit with "being at the forefront of change in the healthcare IT industry," has been named the 2019 John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year by the joint boards of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
Probst has served as CIO at Intermountain Healthcare since 2003 and previously worked for Deloitte Consulting and Ernst & Young. He has been actively involved with CHIME and HIMSS, and served on the Federal Health Information Technology Policy Committee, created by Congress to assist in developing health information technology policy for the U.S. Government.
“Marc has been a transformation leader blazing the trail in advancing technology to improve health and care,” says HIMSS President and CEO Hal Wolf in a news release. “His work exemplifies what it means to be a changemaker—an innovator who rigorously challenges the status quo and empowers others to follow suit in the journey to providing better health for everyone, everywhere.”
CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell says, “Marc has contributed to our community in countless ways. He has been instrumental in CHIME’s growth, domestically and internationally. Marc taught at our very first program in India and continues to be an ambassador for CHIME around the world. He piloted our first innovation initiative and helped make Intermountain the home for CHIME Innovation. The list goes on and on, and he has done this all while running a spectacular digital enterprise at Intermountain.”
HealthLeaders spoke to Probst about the honor, career highlights, and how the industry is changing the role of the CIO. Following are excerpts from that conversation, lightly edited for clarity and space.
HealthLeaders: What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
Marc Probst: Being the chief information officer of Intermountain healthcare. I'm proud of building an unbelievably strong team of information system professionals that go about business the right way, with the right attitude around healthcare and why they do what they do, why we all do what we do. I'm really proud of the team that we've been able to develop and morph over the years. I feel like I'm, very blessed to have been in that situation and with the right people to do some pretty great things.
HL: During your career, what has been the most significant trend or event that impacted the healthcare IT industry?
Probst: Meaningful use. It's the largest event that just changed the whole tenor of the industry. Everything got digitized very quickly. It put health IT from kind of [being] in the basement with the morgue into the spotlight and, frankly, put a lot of accountability and responsibility on health IT to deliver. In a fairly short period of time, it completely changed my profession … and increased the expenditures in health IT significantly.
HL: What do you think is the greatest issue facing CIOs today?
Probst: Affordability. The pressure will continue to be on us to improve the quality of service that we provide, but do it at costs that are significantly lower than we have today.
HL: How do you balance affordability with the need to protect patient data?
Probst: Well, hence, that's why it's the biggest challenge. We're dealing with a lot of older legacy systems, whether they be medical device systems or whether they be EMRs, or a lot of our products still are at least older in their foundation. Securing those, providing the right level of service for clinicians that are expecting way more than we've delivered through our clinical systems and doing that at costs that are going to continue to need to decrease; decrease is going to be a challenge. But there's also a lot of things happening in the industry that support that [such as] SaaS based systems, Agile, new development languages that are far more flexible and allow us to leverage capabilities that we didn't have 15 years ago. There are things out there that are promising, but I still think that will be a major challenge if not the largest challenge for us is health IT professionals.
HL: Describe the future role of the CIO to me. What's going to change as we move forward? What do you predict for yourself and your colleagues looking down the road?
Probst: A bifurcation in the role of the CIO is what I see. It's going to be up to the individual and the organization they work for how this plays out. The bifurcation I see is a highly technical CIO that has the role of operating these very complex systems that we have. That's a really important job, and I don't want to diminish the importance of that role an iota, but I do see it that's going to be a key role for some CIOs.
There [also] is a huge need to move into a new paradigm for IS in healthcare. That paradigm isn't the big legacy systems that we've had. It's moving into platforms—some of the work Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Cerner to some degree, are doing—and leveraging the cloud as a new development platform for IS. That's going take strategic thinking that aligns very closely with our clinical and business teams. They may even call [the role] something different, but I think there will be CIOs who fall in a role of being much more strategically aligned with the business in driving these major paradigm shifts in how we're going to use technology.
Some CIOs will end up in that strategic, forward-thinking [role] … running very complex and large, expensive organizations. Other organizations may be fast followers or even slow followers. They will let these other CIOs or tech leaders drive [forward-thinking strategies] and adopt some of the principles that come from those other leaders.
Neither [role] is more important than the other … The specific organization you work for and how [its leaders] want to approach and use technology will dictate the kind of CIO they need.
HL: Congratulations on receiving this award. Are there any comments you'd like to add?
Probst: I hope I've been an advocate for health IT, whether that's what I've done with the federal government or working on meaningful use, defining meaningful use and advocating for healthcare, or whether that's been advocating through my roles in CHIME. I hope I've been a positive advocate for health IT across the industry. If I did that and then ran an operation as significant as Intermountain Healthcare … I feel pretty good about what I've been able to do in this industry, and I'm so pleased to work with so many great people.
“[Probst is] an innovator who rigorously challenges the status quo.”
Hal Wolf, HIMSS president and CEO
Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.
Photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare
Probst played a key role with the federal government in defining meaningful use and advocating for healthcare.
He predicts a "bifurcation" in the role of the CIO at healthcare systems. One will drive strategy and paradigm shifts; another will operate complex technical systems.