The CIO, CDO and Digital Innovation in Healthcare: Key Questions to Ask

March 16, 2020
Who will lead digital and how will the role be positioned to best serve the needs of the organization?

The healthcare industry is at a pivotal moment in time as it shifts focus to provide an exceptional consumer experience powered by the promise of digital technology. However, barely 20 percent of providers have a digital strategy, according to one recent report.

This will certainly change in the next few years, as hospitals and health systems develop these strategies in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. To do so, they must have, and often hire, the right leaders. For some organizations, this will mean carving out a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role to develop and lead the digital strategy and work collaboratively with the CIO and other business and clinical leaders in the organization. In others, the CIO may be charged with overseeing the digital reins.

There is no clear blueprint yet. This article, therefore, explores some of the scenarios taking shape and the questions that organizations should be asking.

The challenges/opportunities

Unlike other industries, healthcare is in the early stages of its consumer-focused, digital journey but the buzz surrounding it is legitimate. Health systems, specifically, are in various stages of maturity from defining and planning on digital innovation to implementing solutions that are beginning to transform the patient experience and the way they deliver care. In addition, the establishment of partnerships and joint ventures with technology companies and the development of innovation centers and investments funds are spurring potential and excitement.

What's clear is the need to generate value at convenience for the consumer/patient now and into the future. The high-quality, low-cost with excellence in consumer experience model is a priority. Online tools and capabilities such as wayfinding, online scheduling and virtual visits are being implemented and are just at the beginning in the move towards integrated digital platforms that provide a consistent and valuable experience for patients. In addition, digital tools to improve the provider experience and how they interact and deliver care to their patients are a key ingredient to the value-based model.

Regardless of the strategy, executing on digital innovation will require practical, forward-thinking leadership with a commitment to identifying and deploying emerging technology that truly enhances how provider organizations engage, serve and follow up with their patients while providing high quality care.  

The leaders needed

Who will have that leadership? The ideas fueling digital innovation in support of consumer engagement are fascinating but are nothing more than catchy concepts without leaders to follow through on them. This has created a call to action by hospital systems to recruit digital leaders and teams. Some organizations are hiring Chief Digital Officers to take the lead on developing an enterprise-wide digital strategy working in partnership with the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Other organizations are expanding the role of the CIO and recruiting digital teams underneath them. There are a variety of reasons why health systems are going in either direction and certainly culture, talent needs and technology maturation are part of the equation. Also, the recruitment of other officer positions focused on patient experience, transformation and innovation are shaping organizational structures and enabling a team of creative and agile leaders to drive change.

A call for both positions

IT and Digital are two distinct areas of importance and complementary to one another. It's no secret that a robust, up-to-date technology infrastructure is needed as the foundation to effectively support digital innovation. Equally vital are the CIO and CDO roles to help guide the future direction of healthcare organizations. Both positions will play a key role in leading transformation change as evangelists with a vision and the ability to execute on innovation that is patient-centered focus and truly improves clinical outcomes. Moving from the traditional healthcare model to a digital one that meets the needs of the future generation of healthcare consumers is a monumental initiative and to achieve success it will require sound leadership from both the CIO and CDO.

As they consider hiring a CDO, or realigning the CIO position to address digital needs, hospitals, health systems and related organizations may wish to consider the following questions:

1.       What are the key skill sets needed in a leader to drive digital innovation in our organization?

2.       Does the CIO role in our organization have the capacity to take on additional digital responsibilities? If so, does our current CIO have the bandwidth to lead digital initiatives?

3.       Will creating a dedicated Chief Digital Officer role be best to lead and execute on digital transformation?

4.       If we create a CDO position, should the CIO and CDO roles be restructured, or should one position report to the other?

5.       If we create a new CDO position, do we promote someone from within or bring in external candidates from inside or outside of healthcare?

The ultimate questions are: Who will lead digital and how will the role be positioned to best serve the needs of the organization? Each organization must evaluate its own talent, culture and leadership to answer these questions.

Nicholas (Nick) Giannas is a consultant in the Information Technology Practice at WittKieffer, a global executive search firm dedicated exclusively to organizations that improve quality of life in health care, education, the life sciences and the not-for-profit sector.

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