The trajectory for technology spending by health and human service organizations continues to increase. In 2015, information technology (IT) spending among health care provider organizations was approximately $8 billion and is expected to more than double to $16.9 billion by 2020 (see Health Care Provider Organizations To Double IT Services Spending By 2020). These findings were echoed by a recent Forrester Research estimate in late 2017 that health care organization tech budgets would rise 8.8% in 2018 (see 2018 Tech Budgets To Rise About 8.8% For Healthcare Organizations).
So the big strategy question – what do health and human service executives expect to get from their tech investments? A new survey of health care organization leadership, had some conclusions that were no surprise to me, but they do fly in the face of much of the discussion on technology in health and human service field (CIO Survey 2017 Healthcare Sector Findings). Four of the five desired expectations from tech spending are all about operations improvements and efficiencies—operational efficiencies, stability in operations, improving business processes, and saving costs. Also making the “top five” list in the survey were business intelligence and analytics supports for business decisionmaking.
This may seem a bit mundane for a tech ROI wish list. Health care executive teams want technology investments to provide the information needed to make their organizations run better and reduce operating costs. But, in my recent experience, the state of enterprise-wide reporting of strategic key performance measures at health and human service organizations could best be described as “spotty.” (And, reporting that aggregates data from outside the enterprise via some form of interoperability is rare.) And few management teams report timely improvements in basic business processes and clinical team productivity. It’s not that real-time performance metrics and tech-enabled operational efficiency improvements don’t happen. It’s that they are not happening enough or fast enough.
Part of the issue is that focusing on best practices in technology implementation, process optimization, and metrics-based management are not necessarily sexy topics. All that discussion of workflow, data translators and tradecraft. But these best practices are the key for most organizations-particularly service provider organizations-to compete. It is also important to note that the potential of the new technologies that fascinate us all (artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, RFID, the Internet of Things, natural language processing, augmented reality, wearables, etc.) can only be realized in organizations that have a fully-functional and integrated information technology infrastructure.
Part of the strategic challenge in technology optimization in health and human service organizations related to the culture of management teams. Information technology was traditionally viewed as a financial function – necessary to send bills and produce financial reports. But information technology is now a fundamental part of organizational strategy and service delivery. In making this shift, the role of CIO in health and human service organizations is a critical one. The same survey found that health and human service organizations are more dependent than organizations in other sectors on their CIO leading innovation across the organization. This is a new role for most CIOs and raises important issues in staffing and reporting structures (see After ‘Reinventing’ The CFO, It’s The CIO’s Turn).
How to address this? Last fall at The OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat, I had a chance to listen to Victor Topo, President & Chief Executive Officer, Center For Life Management, advise the attending executives that the CIO can’t simply be on the team, but has to be integral to decisionmaking, not only for tech systems, but also for the overall strategy of the organization (see Tech Best Practice: Planning, Budgeting & Change Management). For more, we recently reached out to Mr. Topo, who noted:
I would say that the starting point for including a CIO on the senior leadership in a health care organization is ask the question, what role does information technology play in fulfilling the mission and vision of an organization? And a second question could be-what would it accomplish by having such a person in such a high level position in the organization?
These might sound like basic questions. But many health care organizations are evaluating investments in technology and I believe it is imperative to have at least some understanding of these questions. In years past, its often been said that in order to be successful, a behavioral health organization needs to have both a social mission and a business mission. I would add that we need to have a technology mission and in order for it to be an effective one, it needs to have a forward thinking CIO in a senior leadership role as a direct report to the CEO.
One of the things we accomplish by having a CIO in the c-suite is the technology knowledge and expertise at the table when discussing current mission and future vision questions and direction. I have included this position in my organization’s leadership team for nearly 20 years. And having that high-level expertise has been critical given all that has happened with technology during that timeframe. Take for example, cybersecurity, which is a growing issue for boards of directors. Given the predictable high frequency and likelihood of data breaches, not having a CIO puts the organization at greater risk for an event, and makes it difficult to manage the consequences should one occur.
Which brings us back to the first and most compelling question about mission and vision. In years past, the emphasis has been on having an electronic health record (EHR). But we are moving beyond the EHR to other technologies and information management issues. It’s no longer just about having an EHR, but rather recognizing how much mission can accomplish with new treatment technologies, patient registries, and adopting a population health model of care.
Interested in more on the role of technology in strategy, sustainability, and success? Check out these resources in our OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Do You Have The Right Data Security ‘Attitude’?
- Structuring (& Budgeting For) Analytics
- The Leader’s Challenge: Leading The Technology Imperative In A Provider Organization
- Tech Advantage Takes Tech Commitment – Advice From Gracepoint’s Joseph Rutherford
- Your Data Security Deserves A Second Look
- Technology Makes ‘Lifetime Learning’ A Leadership Must
- The Importance Of Cyber Security 2017: Impact Of The Latest Technology & Trends (Coffee Break Case Study)
- Fitting ‘Invisibles’ Into Your Tech Planning
- Tech Skills Not Just For The IT Department
- Leveraging Technology To Support Your Population Health Management Strategy
For more, join me on October 24 at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute for my plenary address, “Meeting The Innovation Challenge In Health & Human Services: Building A Nimble Management Team To Respond To Opportunities In A Value-Based Market.”