Branzell told InformationWeek Healthcare that he believes CHIME and the healthcare CIO community have been more reactive than proactive to date in the public policy arena. "We want to be part of the group that impacts policy before it happens," said Branzell, who is currently is CEO of Colorado Health Medical Group at University of Colorado Health. Branzell will begin his new job with CHIME on April 5.
Branzell, who made the inaugural InformationWeek Healthcare CIO25 in 2011, also is a former CIO of Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins, Colo. He will take over the recently redefined position of president and CEO at CHIME from Richard A. Correll, who will shift to chief operating officer when Branzell comes aboard. "Rich will continue to run the machine of CHIME organizationally," said CHIME board chairman George "Buddy" Hickman, executive VP and CIO at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center.
[ Even as some big healthcare providers test the use of big data, smaller groups question its value. Read Is Healthcare Big Data Ready For Prime Time? ]
According to Hickman, the change has been 2 to 3 years in the making. "What we do as a professional organization has become more important to our professional members and to our foundation members," he explained. The CHIME Foundation includes health IT vendors and consultants.
Hickman said CHIME wanted to put someone with "CIO competency" in charge. As CEO, Branzell will take an active role in CHIME's public policy efforts. "We are also looking for continued growth and to further diversify our portfolio of what we bring to the table as an organization," Hickman said.
Branzell indicated that he wants to be able to contribute "tactical and practical" assistance and help further position health IT as "the driving automation force for healthcare reform." Another desire is to help fellow CIOs do their jobs better. "There are so many demands on CIOs," Branzell said.
"We really can be the catalyst for health reform," Branzell added. "The real gains in healthcare cost reduction that will really drive quality improvement must come from process reform."
Branzell prefers not to hear about having to prioritize multiple tasks because so many health IT initiatives seem so important. "The average CIO probably has about 20 'Priority 1's' today," he said, naming electronic health records (EHRs) and Meaningful Use, ICD-10, accountable care organizations, health information exchange and various state issues.
Branzell is a former chairman of the CHIME CIO State Network (StateNet), a hub for health information exchange-related activities at the state and local levels. He said CHIME will be tapping into its network of CIO volunteers in each state to advocate on the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based organization's behalf.
The incoming CHIME chief said he would like to help make the work manageable for healthcare CIOs while also assisting frontline health IT professionals in developing their skills and following best practices.
"CIOs are right in the fray of helping to transform organizations into something new," Branzell said. He suggested that perhaps 10 to 15 years ago, the person in the middle of change efforts was the CFO. "Today, the No. 1 person in the organization who knows everything that's going on is the CIO. There is unbelievable demand for their time."
Lately, the march toward Meaningful Use and a nationwide network of interoperable EHRs has been met with some criticisms, despite the imperative some provider groups have placed on their IT departments to meet the EHR standards. "We are at an evolutionary state of progress in a revolutionary time," Branzell said. With the amount of money being spent on health IT, including $27 billion in federal incentives, he added, "I wouldn't say it's inappropriate scrutiny."
Some of the critiques have questioned the efficacy of EHRs. "We welcome that debate," Branzell said. "Better care is being provided, but we are still in a transitional period." He said there will be more interoperability in Meaningful Use Stage 2, which begins in 2014 for providers that achieved Stage 1 in 2011.
Noting that it took half a decade for ATMs to be able to talk to each other, Branzell added, "We are at that same point in the evolutionary curve [with EHRs]."
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