The Evolving Role of Tech Leaders in Healthcare, Part One

The role of healthcare tech leaders must evolve for their organizations to remain competitive and meet changing needs in their communities. Guest blogger Sarah Richardson discusses two key issues facing healthcare IT leaders: reskilling their workforce and building strategic partnerships.

(Guest blogger Sarah Richardson is vice president of IT change leadership at OptumCare.)

Healthcare providers continue to focus more on innovation and using data to predict outcomes and measure results. To stay competitive and meet the changing demands of the communities we serve, the role of healthcare CIOs and other healthcare tech leaders must evolve. Today’s CIO is moving from overseeing the day-to-day operations of the technology arm of the business to focusing on coupling transformative innovations with business strategy. And it is more important than ever for technology leaders to develop both technological expertise and business acumen. 

Starting my career in the hospitality industry, I am no stranger to pivoting to develop new skills and areas of expertise. Hospitality is all about the guest experience, which has served me well, because innovation, patient and provider engagement, and patient satisfaction have become paramount to the IT functions. In other words, the patient experience is top of mind. In this post, I’ll discuss two key issues facing healthcare IT leaders: reskilling your workforce and building strategic partnerships.  

Reskilling Your Workforce to Meet Market Demands

Today’s healthcare customers expect all the technological conveniences they find in many other aspects of their lives. To support these evolving demands, healthcare IT leaders recognize that they need a workforce with the types of skills they might not have had before. For example, if an organization uses artificial intelligence in a healthcare call center, it reduces the need for staff to answer easy customer questions. But then, staff need training on answering more complex questions, so it becomes essential to reskill teams to handle those new challenges. 

Before hiring costly consultants, our team looks at the skills of our existing workforce. Annually, our teammates update their talent profile with an individual development plan that includes education, certifications, proficiency in specific skills, areas of improvement, and career goals. We also look at key capabilities, including curiosity, desire to learn, and ability to adapt for each teammate. This exercise provides us a snapshot of the skills and attributes we have on our team and the skills needed in the year ahead. 

A fundamental element of reorienting your workforce is ensuring teams know how they impact the business. Recently, we offered a course on how we operate as an organization. We reviewed the intricacies of managed care, Medicare Advantage, fee for service, commercial patients, and how the data we collect helps reduce the average length of stay. Throughout the course, we discussed how the data points we feed our organization and the solutions that come from data impact patient care. Connecting our technology team to our organization's mission and helping them better understand their role in that mission was powerful. 

In addition to reskilling the people they lead, CIOs and other IT leaders must also reskill themselves. IT leaders must become decisive in their decision-making and planning, courageous in their willingness to take risks to move the organization forward, and willing to take the initiative to change. They also need to learn about innovation and best practices happening not only in healthcare, but in other industries. 

Building Strategic Partnerships Internally and Externally

In the same way that reskilling the workforce never really ends, building and maintaining partnerships is something that you’ll be tending to for a long time. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind.

All partnerships must be built upon trust. CIOs first need to establish trust within their internal team and create a team that delivers on incremental wins. For support, CIOs can lean on other leaders, including the chief digital officer and chief technology officer, who can assist with overseeing day to day operations, so the CIO can focus on connecting technology strategy with the business plan.

Stakeholder collaboration is key. Recently, we received a request to expand the number of characters in the patient intake form. Rather than simply reacting to the request, we collaborated with our patient support center who retooled the patient intake process. We discovered, when modifying the process, the character count was sufficient. Had we expanded it, we would have made the wrong choice and wasted resources on an unnecessary change.  

Vendors enable innovation. When a vendor has expertise in healthcare, has a platform or community for customers to collaborate and learn from each other, and makes it easier to accomplish business goals, it's clear they’ll be a strong innovation partner. For example, Workday helped us move our business forward. They helped us bring multiple business functions together and enabled our people processes to be in the cloud, so we don’t have to constantly retool and upgrade our systems.

Other industries model where healthcare needs to go. A lot of what’s needed in healthcare to engage customers already exists in other industries. For example, Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines imagined a better way for people to move around the country with his airline. He didn't invent anything new, but he retooled it to be more accessible for customers. Innovation doesn’t always come with being a tech wizard. Rather, solutions are often already within an organization, and typically come from looking at what exists in a fresh way. 

Read the second part of “The Evolving Role of Tech Leaders in Healthcare,” which dives into innovative technology in healthcare, best practices for deploying new technology, and creating an innovative culture.

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