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Being a successful healthcare CIO requires vision

Brian Eastwood | March 19, 2014
Today's healthcare IT leaders have a lot on their plates. The rush to digitize is hitting them hard -- but one CIO says it's shortsighted to simply focus on technology itself, not on the fundamental industry changes that tech will bring.

Don't ask Dr. Shafiq Rab an easy question.

The vice president and CIO of the Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center has achieved stage 1 of meaningful use at the 775-bed facility, which is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in New Jersey. He's also completed two Epic Systems electronic health record (EHR )implementations and has some big ideas about bringing EHR to the cloud - a bit of a radical idea, considering that Epic says large customers don't buy into the cloud.

Ask Rab, a member of the Becker's 100 Hospital and Health System CIOs to Know, to describe the impact of a single product that Hackensack UMC uses, and he's liable to answer, half seriously, "You don't know who I am, do you?" - as he did when speaking to during a break at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executive's recent CHIME CIO Forum.)

That's because the 15-year healthcare CIO has a vision for the future of healthcare, and it means much more than any one single piece of technology.

Rush to Digitization Hitting Healthcare Hard
Healthcare should have digitized long ago, Rab says, but the need for revenue trumped the need for innovation. Without funding from the meaningful use incentive program, he surmises, only the most advanced health systems would have EHR systems today.

As EHR adoption has risen - today, 80 percent of eligible hospitals and 50 percent of eligible providers participate in meaningful use - so, too, has the realization that, as Rab puts it, "It's time to get wisdom out of [the EHR]."

Wisdom has always been in the head of providers, Rab says: "There's a journey from information to knowledge to wisdom." Transferring that wisdom from an individual physician to an entire healthcare system starts with documentation, which is a burden for many EHR users. "That learning curve, that way to do things efficiently, lies in the hands of very few," he says.

Healthcare's rush to digitize revealed a startling truth: Most doctors can't type, so "seeing a patient" often becomes a long process wrought with hunt-and-peck notation. Additional challenges emerged - namely, security and passwords, which were shared, posted publicly or simply kept at the factory default. Thumbprints and eye scans emerged as viable options, Rab says, until infection control entered the picture. "It should be easy," he says, "but there are unintended consequences."

Easy or not, it needs to happen - and quickly, Rab says. Healthcare is coming around on the encryption of data at rest and in motion, in part because of the updated HIPAA Security Rule, but there are still access controls to implement and Wi-Fi networks to lock down. Moreover, the process must resemble sublimation - water's transition from solid to gas without becoming a liquid - or else it will take 10 years.


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