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Guerra On Healthcare: How CIOs Can Avoid Doctor Revolt

Look at what you like--and dislike--about vendor customer service to build a hospital IT department that makes allies out of your doctors and nurses.

Running a hospital IT shop takes a delicate balance between leading and serving. If you don't lead, you become a tactician simply executing orders, and not the strategic CIO advising business leaders on how IT can help make their visions reality. But if you don't serve--if you don't operate a truly customer service-focused department--the clinicians whose goodwill you depend on will revolt.

Today, I'd like to focus on the latter, examining just what constitutes a well-run IT shop. But rather than look directly at those shops, let's look at some things CIOs are saying about their service providers--the vendors.

In a recent column, "Meditech's Strike Force Hits A Home Run," Roger Neal, VP of IT & CIO at Duncan Regional Hospital, writes that his computerized physician order entry (CPOE) implementation significantly improved after the vendor developed a team, rather than siloed, approach. Getting everyone who was involved with the project in the same room allowed important conversations and interactions that would otherwise never have occurred.

I think we all know how beneficial these types of meetings can be. I can personally recall the frustration felt when a key player didn't show up to a meeting whose very value depended on his presence. "Bringing them up to speed" after the fact just didn't cut it--the back and forth and hashing-out of live interaction were lost.

In another instance of customer service improvement, Steven Riney, VP & CIO at Methodist Medical Center, says his relationship with core clinical vendor McKesson took a turn for the better after the organization assigned him one main point of contact.

"I have a very strong McKesson executive who I work with who is now completely responsible for my customer satisfaction, and he's the one throat to choke within the entire organization--it's all his," he said. "They've gone away from this developer model where they've had these silos and funded development within that, and gone to a model where they're really taking a look at it across the organization, putting resources and development where they're needed, and we think that'll be much more responsive to our needs."

Again, based solely on personal experience, we know this is the right approach. How often have you spent 20 minutes on hold, then another 20 explaining your incredibly convoluted problem to the customer service agent of an insurance or credit card company, only to explain it all over again the next time you call because the person you spoke to previously wasn't "allowed" to give out their extension.

"Don't worry, I've added notes to your account and when you call back, anyone will be able to help you," they assure. Of course, calling back reveals they've done no such thing.

It seems customer service nirvana may lie with the combination of the two positive concepts cited above, in which the vendor provides a team of experts reporting to one executive who serves as the hospital's main point of contact.

Since defining the type of customer service we want is so easy, why should producing it be so hard? It's not. Simply take some time to determine if you would be happy with the service your department provides. Do you, for example, allow those needing assistance to deal with one person throughout the conflict-resolution process or must they explain the problem over and over as their trouble ticket is passed from hand to hand? Do you get all the individuals who might be party to their solution together to hash things out, or do silos in your department make that impossible?

While you have every right to expect much from your vendors, your customers have every right to expect the same from you. Consider injecting the above approaches into your customer-service procedures and you'll find that no one will be looking for any throats to choke at all.

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

The Healthcare IT Leadership Forum is a day-long venue where senior IT leaders in healthcare come together to discuss how they're using technology to improve clinical care. It happens in New York City on July 12. Find out more.

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