HealthDecember 04, 2014

The CMIO position: Evolving with healthcare technology

The CMIO, otherwise known as the Chief Medical Information Officer, has many responsibilities in a healthcare organization but is basically a bridge between the medical and IT departments.

Health technology is changing rapidly and healthcare systems have realized that they need an executive with both IT and medical knowledge to manage, develop, and implement medical systems. Thus, the CMIO position has emerged. Usually reporting to either the Chief Information Officer or the Chief Executive Officer, the CMIO role can also fall under the Chief Operations Officer or Chief Medical Officer. Regardless, it is usually a high-level executive position that requires a unique skill set.

Use of systems like electronic patient records (EHR/EMR), patient databases, and other healthcare IT initiatives has been greatly stimulated by government legislation such as the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) as well as recently mandated Medicare penalties for high readmission rates.  CMIOs need to consider factors such as physician use, impact on patient care, cost, and executive oversight. They also ensure that vocabulary and application standards of various systems are integrated across the board -- among physicians, patients, and technologists.

While the job description is still being defined (and can vary among healthcare institutions), CMIOs are typically challenged with the following responsibilities:

  • Serve as a liaison between medical and technical departments and executive leadership
  • Exercise strong communication skills, especially in the area of relaying messages between IT and medical staff
  • Head studies for the design and integration of IT systems and infrastructure in the medical department
  • Study trends in health informatics to develop applications that increase efficiency in patient care
  • Manage projects and initiate change in the organization
  • Develop standards and “rules” in medical terminology and application to increase efficiency in patient care
  • Advise steering committees on the subject of health informatics and policymaking within the organization

To successfully meet these challenges, CMIOs need to understand modern healthcare and anticipate its future direction. They need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, as well as leadership and political expertise in order to effectively institute organizational reforms and achieve ‘buy-in’ regarding changes in the technology being used by the healthcare system.

Some CMIOs are physicians with a background with or interest in technology.  Increasingly, though, the job is being filled by new IT professionals with specialized education and experience in health informatics, a discipline which focuses on the use of information in medicine and research. Because of the increased emphasis on health informatics  – and because the position is becoming more and more strategic – some healthcare systems have renamed and refashioned the CMIO role to that of Chief Health Information Officer (CHIO).

Organizations that are looking well beyond implementing the EHR are focusing on what healthcare technology can do across the continuum and outside their walls, in orderto have a positive effect on community health. For those forward-thinking healthcare systems, it makes sense to adopt a more unified approach that integrates the roles of both the CMIO and the CNIO (Chief Nursing Information Officer) into the broader CHIO title.

Where is your organization in this evolution of healthcare technology?  Are there plans to implement technologies and applications that can benefit the surrounding population? Who is charged with managing, developing and implementing that vision?  We’d like to hear your comments!

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