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Are healthcare CIOs being cut out of the analytics loop?

Ken Terry | April 1, 2016
The onset of ‘population health management’ as a new model for delivering patient care is underscoring the need for IT leaders to strike the right balance between both clinical and business intelligence, even it means not ‘owning’ the analytics function.

Healthcare CIOs are facing new challenges as their organizations shift toward a care delivery model known as “population health management,” or PHM. Essentially, PHM aims to improve the health of a patient population in order to reduce the cost of caring for that population. Healthcare organizations are being forced to take this path because Medicare and private health insurers are replacing payments based on the volume of services with payments based on “value” – which roughly translates to “higher quality at lower cost.” 

PHM requires a sophisticated health IT infrastructure. A key part of this infrastructure consists of clinical and financial analytics. These tools support the clinicians who manage population health and help financial executives manage within a budget, respectively. Supervising clinical and business intelligence for PHM was not even listed in a 2013 CIO job description from the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). So while no CIO job requirement has been eliminated since then, a whole new domain has been added … in theory. 

But John Moore, founder and CEO of Chilmark Research, a firm that reports on the health IT business, says that, in reality, many CIOs are not directly involved in the new analytics work. “They pulled analytics away from the CIO because the CIO doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it,” he says. 

Analytics experts give CIOs no respect

Moore recalls asking PHM analytics experts at a recent conference who they report to. Some said they reported to CFOs; others reported to chief medical officers (CMOs), to service line leads or to whomever had P&L responsibility for the accountable care organization (ACO) affiliated with their healthcare system. Only one analyst mentioned the CIO in her organization. 

“The others turned around and said, ‘Really? We can’t give our CIO anything. They’re so overwhelmed with the EHR [electronic health record] that they can’t do anything right now. They’re just keeping the lights on.’” Among the CIO’s main tasks, Moore notes, are maintaining network services and security, implementing EHRs and upgrading their systems. PHM analytics are an additional layer of complexity they don’t have time to deal with, he avers. 

Dennis Weaver, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer, consulting and management division, for the Advisory Board Co., agrees that CIOs don’t always supervise the analytics area in healthcare organizations. However, he doesn’t see them being taken out of the loop. Instead, he says, the CIOs are working closely with the “operators” – the CFOs, CMOs and so on – to whom the PHM analysts report.

“The best organizations are taking more of a dyad approach,” Weaver observes. “The operator and the technologist are both at the table, having that conversation, so you’ve got the right technology support to support the operator. A lot of times, the operator may be running the analytic shop. But one of the things we’ve found is that while the CIO may not be running the analytics shop, the CIO is a critical partner. Because to do the analytics, you have to both collect the data and then pull it out of the operational data warehouse and put it into an analytic capability to be able to analyze it.” 


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