Healthcare CIOs Top Power Play: Friendship

By wielding power softly, it's easier to convert electronic medical record doubters into advocates.

Anthony Guerra, Contributor

July 20, 2011

4 Min Read

After talking shop the other day, a new sponsor said to me, "You really seem to enjoy your work--how did you come to focus on CIOs?" I responded that since I was clearly right-brained, those graced with the productivity of both hemispheres elicited my admiration and curiosity.

This admiration was first roused by a friend I went to grade school with. While I was able to bang out a few short stories and some doggerel, he could easily see those and raise me physics and calculus--two realms I was frightfully out of my element. Ultimately, this friend selected a career that perfectly melded his analytical and creative sides--architecture.

As stakes to play, CIOs must first be left-brained. Let's think of this as the infrastructure, network, or data center side. Just how complex this side can get is well illustrated in a recent post by John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, in which he describes how storage challenges can pop up at any time. This is the side I view with awe because it's so foreign to me.

But it's the right brain of CIOs that I most identify with, the side that produces creative solutions, helps navigate human interactions, and manages the use of soft power. Today, with CIOs on the hook not just to implement clinical systems, but to also bring about Meaningful Use, soft power is more important than ever, because it's all you've got. The clinicians don't report to you, you're not one of them, and they largely see you as a service center created to do their bidding. It is only through the use of soft power--the ability to make them want to do what you need them to do--that you can be successful.

But how to cultivate soft power?

During a soon-to-be-published interview with Drex DeFord, SVP/CIO at Seattle Children's Hospital and Research Institute, we discussed his use of the Toyota Production System (TPS) to build a world-class IT shop. DeFord said the system included a concept called Going to Gemba, which calls for managers to get into the field with the users, rather than waiting for problems to reach their office doors. "My office is in my backpack," he said. "Often, if you look into my office, you'll find someone using it as an empty room to have a meeting."

Thinking about this after our interview, I decided CIOs must do better than just visiting Gemba--they must strive to become its mayor. The quintessential mayor, to me, knows everyone by name, and is liked by most. Mayors greet all with warm smiles and firm, reassuring handshakes. The best mayors you can't help but like, often rooting for, or even working to further, their goals.

And that's the key. To be successful in today's speed-of-light environment, you can't force every doctor into using an electronic medical record system, but you must make them want to use one for you. Become the mayor of Gemba by going to their meetings, as DeFord does, knowing their names, shaking their hands, and doing everything in your power to be their friend. Remember, we go out of our way to help our friends, to help "Drex," not "the guy who heads IT."

Every time physicians email or call asking for something, take it as a golden opportunity to do them a favor, one you may need to "call in" in the future. Perhaps that individual won't be the one shouting, "Down with the EMR," after go-live, but they might know, and have some influence over, the doc who is.

Halamka's post shows your left brain must be as sharp as ever, counting the bits and bytes to make sure all the trains run on time--but it's just as true that your right brain must soar ever higher if you're to create the attractive force that will pull your physicians toward Meaningful Use.

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 [email protected].

In the new, all-digital InformationWeek Healthcare: iPads are leading a new wave of devices into the exam room. Are security, tech support, and infection control up to the task? Download it now. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights