AMDIS 2006: The Emerging Role of the CMIO

The question of whether to hire a chief medical information officer (CMIO) "has become very much a global phenomenon" in the past year, according to Vi Shaffer, healthcare research vice president at Gartner (Stamford, Conn.).

That assertion has two meanings. First, more and more hospital systems and integrated delivery networks are realizing the importance of having a physician leader trained in informatics. Plus, medical information is being shuttled electronically across the globe, as an increasing number of organizations take advantage of secure Internet connections to outsource many of their IT functions.

In fact, Gartner forecasts that by 2015, only 15 percent of a healthcare organization's IT expertise actually will reside within the organization. "That phenomenon is also impacting the global community," said Shaffer. Shaffer made her comments last month at the 17th annual Physician-Computer Connection, the, high-level meeting of the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS), as she unveiled preliminary results of the group's annual survey of CMIOs.

While Gartner was not ready to release definitive numbers at the AMDIS meeting because the online survey was continuing, Shaffer shared some clear trends with the San Diego gathering of top medical informaticists.

"Most of you really like your work," Shaffer said, noting that a large percentage of respondents are very satisfied in the CMIO role and feel successful about the work they are doing. The majority also want to stay with their current organizations for the long term, according to Shaffer.

Four in five are in their first CMIO position, and the majority of respondents have been with their current organizations for at least three years. A large number want to stay put for the long term. Almost two-thirds still practice medicine on a part-time basis, and many work more than 80 hours a week. A lot of heads nodded when Shaffer mentioned the latter finding. Three-fourths have graduate degrees in addition to medical degrees.

The job of the CMIO is evolving, Shaffer said, though most continue to serve as the liaison between medical and technical professionals. "Trust and communication is the key to CMIO success. You are very much a bridge role," Shaffer reported.

However, CMIOs would like more access to top executives in their organizations, greater business acumen, more political savvy, and the seemingly contradictory wishes of more time to do their jobs while also being more patient with people and projects alike, according to the early results. Sometimes, though, CMIOs also wish they would be more assertive.

Current CMIO priorities include optimizing the impact of health-IT systems; the development of a strategic plan for medical informatics; selection and implementation of vendor systems; and quality analytics and quality improvement initiatives. Shaffer said that analytics programs today still are more reactive than predictive, and CMIOs would like to change that.
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