Healthcare chief executives have figured out that they need a comprehensive information strategy, but a clear majority aren't confident that chief information officers can pull it off.
That's "perhaps the single most alarming finding" in a just-released report on information systems leadership, according to Oak Brook, Ill.-based healthcare executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, Ford, Hadelman & Lloyd, which authored the report.
The firm surveyed 86 healthcare CEOs and CIOs on issues of personnel, investment and strategy to chart the challenge facing the healthcare industry in tooling for sophisticated information services.
When CEOs were asked if CIOs are prepared to meet the industry's challenges, 67% said no.
Of the shortcomings they perceived in CIOs, the most serious were a lack of strategic orientation, a bent toward process at the expense of operational goals, and a lack of industry understanding, especially clinical operations and managed care.
In short, they don't see the same systemwide vision that CEOs are seeing, said Michael Corey, one of the report's authors. But CEOs are partly to blame for the shortage of available CIOs with the right stuff, he said.
For one thing, CEOs didn't catch on to the need for a strategic information plan to guide integration of healthcare networks until recently. So there wasn't a demand for the type of CIO needed to help formulate and carry out such a strategy, Corey said.
Now that the demand is there and the scramble for savvy CIOs is on, executives "don't have faith in the existing cadre of information executives," Corey said. "But I also see that CEOs are somewhat risk-averse in bringing CIOs from other industries and giving them the strategic piece of it."
Part of the problem is that CIOs from other industries know the technology but not the terminology.
"(CEOs) say, `Bring me someone outside healthcare,' but they're the first ones eliminated because CEOs don't know how to evaluate them," Corey said. "The learning curve in healthcare can be steep. But like anything, it's learnable."
And a CIO from another industry already may be skilled in system-building and can rely on healthcare-knowledgeable aides to keep development targeted to users, Corey said.
The alternative is to fight for the industry luminaries who can do it all, which can be expensive and short-term. "They're staying (at a healthcare system) five years or less, because they're being lured away for more dollars and to do this for client B after doing it for client A," he said.
Meanwhile, 35% to 40% of the demand for astute CIOs is not being met, signaling that the barrier to outside help will have to come down, Corey said. "I'm confident we will be able to invite people into healthcare to share with us what they already know," he said.