by CIO Staff

Reconciling the Short and Long Term Goals in Transforming the Business

Nov 08, 20053 mins
IT Leadership

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Credit: Getty Images

Paul Saffo started the morning saying, “There’s no job worse than being a CIO. You’re stuck with everything. Short term making everything work, plus long term strategy. Like trying to be a mushroom hunter and a bird watcher at the same time.”

That’s how he introduced the morning’s first speakers, Laureen O’Brian, CIO, and Terry Smith, COO and CFO of Providence Health Services, Oregon Region. Their topic: Reconciling the Short and Long Term Goals in Transforming the Business. You have to admit, we don’t take on unambitious themes here at CIO|06.

While they focused on the current status of health care in the United States, first giving an overview of the industry and their organization, they ended with a dramatization of their daily interchanges, the likes of which could probably be found in any organization not existing in the sleepiest forms of self-contentment.

Smith gave an introduction of Providence Health Services, a Catholic nonprofit organized by state with 27 hospitals plus other complementary health services, which is the second largest employer in Oregon. Interestingly, when he outlined the organization’s challenges, they echoed many of the themes brought up yesterday: a growing and aging population, the growing number of uninsured, irrational funding for healthcare and workforce shortages in key areas.

O’Brian then took over to talk about what Providence’s short and long term strategies were for addressing those problems. Short term is pretty simple and no different from any other CIOs: Systems must be up and running. In her realm, she calls it “maintaining medical dialtone.” The health care specific short term: Must continue to digitize data (wean people off of paper).

Long term sounds simple too: Transform the delivery of health care using IT. (This was a different organization than the one whose CIO I met last night–this transformation seems to be a common goal for health care!) To do that, they must achieve the short term, especially getting data electronic, for that will allow them to innovate and improve in countless directions. Working in their favor is the current state of the world, a “perfect storm” of conditions making this transformation imperative: skyrocketing costs, unprecedented national attention and consumer/employer demands.

So that was all delivered with slides and talk, but the fun part of the presentation came when Smith acted out receiving a call from a disgruntled physician using the new order entry system and wanting to shut the whole system down, or, well, at least his part of it, because it decreased his productivity and oh, yes, there was patient safety to consider. (See our story on the difficulties with hospital CPOE.)

Smith then telephoned O’Brian across the stage and had what would be–according to them–a typical conversation, with O’Brian staunchly defending the system and their finally coming to agreement on how to keep things going but make sure the grumpy user got his voice heard. They also dramatized a typical few moments from a capital prioritization meeting, with the CFO worrying about the value proposition of an expensive system, and the CIO pushing for pursuit of the long term vision. It was very effective, sometimes funny and the audience could clearly sympathize!

–Sandy Kendall