4 themes for healthcare CIOs in 2021

2020 was a nightmare of a year for healthcare providers. The new year provides an opportunity to get back on track.

medical data accessed via tablet / healthcare IoT monitoring
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2020 was a nightmare of a year for healthcare providers. But it was also a year for information technology to prove its worth to healthcare organizations.

As the pandemic struck, healthcare delivery and patient encounters made a rapid right turn to virtual encounters. Analytics came to the forefront, enabling organizations to see trends in advance and detect whether COVID-19 patients could be transferred or had demographics, vital signs, or comorbidities that signaled potential problems. Digital records were shared as patients moved to different care venues.

Healthcare IT aside, the months ahead will be challenging, and IT execs will still have much to do to ensure continuity of systems. Still, the pressure will rise to get back on track with strategic initiatives and make up for the lost time. With 2020 serving as a lost year for capital projects, the question for 2021 is which new technology should be bought and rushed into production to catch up.

Avoid “shiny object” syndrome

This urge to turn to technological “shiny objects” should be resisted. To be honest, this year – and even into 2022 – may not be the time for quick decisions about buying technology to achieve transformational projects. Instead, response to the pandemic has called for all IT hands on deck to adapt care delivery to situational safety. Any efforts to modernize or optimize technology already in place likely have been pushed to the back burner. Existing technology in the current portfolio is likely underutilized.

That’s a key for CIOs looking to ramp up the technology to meet strategic projects that had been identified pre-pandemic. 

Finish it

CIOs need to avoid falling victim to the 80/20 rule when a project is finished to where it’s 80% in place and functioning but ends up falling short of its potential because attention gravitates elsewhere once something is up and running. Organizations that don’t work to optimize systems by fully implementing tend to fossilize at lower levels of competence and don’t achieve the possible ROI.

An example would be implementing an enterprise clinical or business application but only turning on specific enhancements.  The same logic applies to upgrades, when organizations do not turn on every enhancement feature.  Healthcare CIOs should focus on enabling every new feature set during system implementation. 

Avoid having too many projects

How an IT department views a finished project may not truly reflect what organization leaders believe is a fully completed project – resulting in cognitive dissonance that can risk a CIO’s future over time. It’s a common failing of healthcare organizations, most of which have too many initiatives in progress that they cannot fully complete.

Rather than defining success by the number of projects underway, CIOs are better off thinking of themes for their projects that match organizational initiatives. For example, many IT departments have a running list of 100-plus projects. 

A project list that long must translate towards a strategic theme, such as speed to market, improving employee experience or patient experience, or financial optimization. Recasting along these lines can help get CIOs out of a project mindset.

Sell your vision constantly

Finally, set a clear agenda and strategic direction and share it regularly with those on the front lines. Every executive tends to give lip service to this, but aspiring to perfect this practice is crucial in leading an IT service team. It is an ongoing process to evolve and modify the communication and delivery approach.

Without these critical components to IT leadership at this time, an executive risks team confusion, too many simultaneous “shiny objects” initiatives stumbling forward at the same time, and the risk of budget expense creep with no resulting financial benefit and a higher risk of failure in delivery.

Most healthcare organizations are in a stressed and strained place right now. Their IT departments have performed yeoman’s work over this past year and gained important credibility. It’s time to build wisely off that foundation and not squander opportunities.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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