Guerra On Healthcare: CIOs Need To Gain Clinical Knowledge - InformationWeek
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Anthony Guerra
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Guerra On Healthcare: CIOs Need To Gain Clinical Knowledge

Many CIOs are finding HITECH constitutes an overwhelming test of their clinical knowledge, but they should also recognize it as a golden opportunity to learn.


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When ARRA/HITECH was signed into law early last year, it quickly became apparent that the nexus of clinical practice and information technology would be a great place to focus one's career. Eighteen months later, as the nuances of the program have taken shape, that observation carries even more weight.

While those still in the more formative phases of life (high school, college, graduate school) have time to adjust trajectory in hopes of hitting their new target, those currently in executive healthcare IT roles -- especially CIOs -- have a more challenging course correction to make. Since almost all CIOs have risen through the IT ranks, it's not that sphere where they require support. Rather, it is the clinical realm.

This became apparent after I read a Meaningful Use Stage 1 White Paper on capturing the necessary clinical data for quality reporting. It was thick with references to conditions and treatments I've never heard of, and hopefully will not need anytime soon. Undoubtedly, there is a tiny sliver of the CIO population for whom the clinical information in that document represented business as usual, but I have no doubts they are the exception.

Many CIOs are finding HITECH constitutes an overwhelming test of their clinical knowledge. But those executives should realize this constitutes a golden opportunity to learn.

First and foremost, the required learning demands submission of the ego to the intellect. Basically, they must get over the embarrassment of having to ask for help, and get to it. A good place to begin is a frank talk with the CMIO or physician champion. Remember, CIOs don't need to attend medical school, but they could benefit from a course that teaches HITECH-related clinical information. Today, CHIME holds a wonderful boot camp for CIOs where they learn best practices from the best in the business. I suggest some entity in the clinical world develop a "HITECH Clinicals Boot Camp" for IT professionals.

Another great best practice is "walking the floor," getting out of the executive building or offices and strolling the patient wards. During these walks, CIOs can learn more about clinical practice -- and how the IT they've purchased and implemented is being (or not being) used -- than they ever could from classroom-style education.

Today, however, each CIO must find a way to get this essential knowledge on his or her own. Perhaps simply sitting with a physician and going through some of the HITECH requirements one-on-one will suffice. Perhaps asking colleagues how they are handling these challenges will do it. I know I will start including related questions in my CIO interviews to help readers/listeners.

The bottom line is CIOs can't be passive and must refuse to be victims. The must identify the problem or knowledge gap, accept it and move quickly but circumspectly to address it. They must let no one knock them off their game, not the government, not an unsympathetic clinical counterpart, not a lackluster CEO. If HITECH has exposed a gap in their skill set, they must simply find a way to fill it.

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at

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