How will we ever get our work done? A CIO’s perspective

By Curt Kwak, Chief Information Officer, Proliance Surgeons

Curt-Kwak

Healthcare is an interesting industry for IT professionals.  It’s an industry that wants to depend on technology for clinical excellence & improving the health of our population, yet, there are so many obstacles to overcome to really get there.  So, how do we get “there”?

I serve as the Chief Information Officer at Proliance Surgeons, one of the largest surgical practices in the country, with 200+ board-certified physicians providing treatment at more than 60 care centers in Washington State.  This wonderful organization performed over 77k surgeries last year alone and is considered one of the best organizations to work for in Healthcare.  We have some of the most well-known and also nationally ranked physicians in the nation and they demand and deserve the best we can offer.  With this type of expectation and requirement, how do we keep up our IT services?  And let me be the first one to say that I’m not the only healthcare CIO asking this question!  Being a healthcare CIO in the State of Washington means you are surrounded by world class physicians demanding the best from you.

I recently contributed an article called “Collaboration is innovation”.  My point in the article was that innovation is not just developing a new idea or a way, but also using an existing way better.  How many times have we heard “this is the way we’ve always done it and it works for us” or “Why fix something that’s not broke??”  These statements to me are the daggers that will stop any organization to transform.  Why limit yourself to the expectations that are already set?  Why not challenge the possibilities beyond these expectations?  How do we battle some of these perceptions as IT Professionals?

My experiences in IT leadership have taught me that purchasing and installing a technology is easy.  The best example that I can think of is a state government project of building a system that would enable healthcare coverage for hundreds and thousands of people in a state.  What is so hard about developing a software platform that will enable anyone to register, shop & purchase an insurance plan that will provide affordable health insurance for the buyer and his/her family?  Simple enough, right?  The public sentiment was just that… “It’s just a website… how hard can it be?”.

Well, what most people didn’t get to see were the hundreds of hours of coordination with both the Federal & State government entities, training of many certified representatives called “Navigators”, coordination through registered brokers, many days and nights testing hundreds & thousands of applications scenarios, preparation & build of the call center, all while trying to build a brand in a NEW market place.  Simple?  Compared to all this, the purchase/development& installation of the web site was relatively straight forward.  Ok, so what is my point behind all this?

We have a lot of requests coming from our excellent physicians.  They deserve the best.  I fully agree with that.  My point is that IT isn’t here to purchase and install technology.  We are here to provide “solutions” to enable business strategic objectives, right?  The key question is, how do we deliver solutions to these important users in a consistent, sustainable way?  That’s what we are trying to figure out every day.  Some days, it’s the will of people that gets the job done.  Sometimes, the ball bounces in our way… us benefitting from the lucky bounces.  How do we go beyond the “will” of people and luck to provide the best, most satisfying service to our VIPs?  My thoughts are as follows:

  • Professional communication. Know your environment, be very pertinent and speak the proper language.  Seek acknowledgement.
  • Deliver your commitment. Your stakeholders have heard all the stories & excuses…. Not just from you, but from other organizations and other stakeholders.  The best way to minimize having to provide excuses is to deliver what you commit to.
  • Don’t overcommit! Probably the easiest thing an IT executive could do.  Yes, I have done this myself in the past and sometimes, it’s your golden ticket out of tough conversations.  However, the downstream affect is that you will negatively impact your employees.
  • Be transparent with your team. This doesn’t just apply to the top to bottom communication.  Your team is also your peer group.  Be open, never be defensive and show care!
  • Your company dollars are your dollars. When you are faced with a decision to buy a product or renew a contract, think back to when went into the local grocery store and started to complain that an organic loaf of bread of is NOT worth $6.  Every dollar counts, right?