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CIO podcast: CCIO role is key to eHealth development

Written by Mark Chillingworth Photographed and Produced by Matt Gore

Clinical Chief Information Officers (CCIO) are set to become a critical component in healthcare provision across Europe. As this week’s Horizon CIO podcast reveals, health service providers will be unable to meet the needs of patients without a significant increase in the use of eHealth technology and as the CCIOs, political and technology leaders discuss with Horizon, the CCIO is essential to ensure eHealth technology is successfully adopted.

In recent weeks the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) published the findings of its major Europe wide survey of health and health technology leaders and found: “There has been a broad trend in recent years for healthcare IT experts to go “more clinical”, reflected in an increasing number of chief clinical information officers (CCIO) and chief nursing information officers (CNIO). Europe-wide, 40% of the experts stated that a CCIO was available in their organisation, and 15% said that this was also true for a CNIO.”

Here in the UK the role is on the increase and in March of this year the NHS Digital Academy announced aims to train over 300 CCIOs before 2025. The organisation, set up by NHS England and led by digital leader Rachel Dunscombe, who recently spoke on the Horizon CIO podcast about procurement, is a joint venture between the NHS and public sector outsourcing provider Capita.  

With 40% of European health organisations reporting they have a CCIO available in their organisation, Horizon set off to Europe’s fastest adopter of digital technology, Ireland, to discuss the growth of the CCIO role.

I’m a clinician and Richard Corbridge and I set up the CCIO role to have a clinical voice, somebody who would talk on the behalf of the clinician and it has an educational role too,” says Joyce Healy CCIO for the HSE, Ireland national health service provider. As CIO Cindy Fedell told this title and attendees to the Innovation Leadership Summit the role works in symbiosis with the CIO.  

“I think its important at bringing the clinical voice to the senior management team,” says Mary Cleary, deputy CEO of the Irish Computer Society. “The CIO role has been brought to the fore in recent years and it adds a bonus to have that clinical voice. We must not though, fall into the trap of separating the ICT from the clinical in the organisation.”

eHealth keys

Mary Cleary, deputy CEO of the Irish Computer Society

Muiris O’Connor, Head of R&D and Health Analytics at the Department of Health, Ireland says that despite the rapid growth of the role across Europe, Ireland is playing catch up: “We are late to the adoption of the CCIO, that means there is a lot we can learn though and one of the lessons is that eHealth cannot be led out as just an IT project otherwise it will always be just an IT project and there is so much more than the kit and the technology.

“eHealth is an opportunity to empower our health professionals using their medical know how. Without their buy-in the information generated is of limited value. I have been really encouraged by how we have gone about it over here.”

“There is a realisation that the investment has to happen and that eHealth is the way forward to help with health delivery,” Cleary says of how Ireland and all European nations face the challenge of an aging population with a growing number of serious clinical needs. “The integration is very important and it has to be done in a sustainable way, so the ICT element cannot be superimposed on top of a health situation, it has to be truly integrated, it is not the same processes that are being enhanced by technology, it is a whole root and branch reorganisation of processes and procedures.” It is striking how Cleary is reflecting the same thought process of former government CIOs at Stance who shared their vision in a recent Horizon CIO podcast and Steve Homan in last week’s business focused digital transformation podcast.  

Joyce Healy CCIO for the HSE

“Treating a patient and looking at the systems are similar.  When you are treating a patient you are looking at the symptoms and gathering data and information and you are using your knowledge on top of that.  You are doing the same with the systems you are doing a process analysis of the systems,” CCIO Healy adds. “Clinicians are very well placed to look at the processes. You have to look at the root and branch and drill down.

The HIMSS study talks of healthcare CIOs “getting more clinical”, but the panel of CCIO experts believe it is equally important for CCIOs to get more technological.

“The objective of a professional development programme to make sure that the impact of a CCIO is to make sure that clinicians understand something of the IT processes and that the IT professionals understand where the clinicians are coming from and that there is a meeting of minds and solutions,” Cleary says.

O’Connor of the Department of Health says another advantage of the CCIO role is that as governments look to get more from less money,”but one of the best ways of ensuring efficiency is ensuring relevance”.  

“If we can get the citizens to be demanding that clinicians are tech savvy then that is the motivation for the clinician and the tie up with eHealth, privacy and data is incredible as they are so united.”

“One of the big potential benefits of eHealth is the new ways of working and collaborative ways of working with a good policy framework around that,” O’Connor adds.

CCIO Healy agrees: “If there is something we can sell that makes the way we work with patients more effective, then the clinicians will jump at that”.

All three believe that eHealth is about increasing the time clinicians spend with patients and that eHealth cannot take off without the dual leadership from CIOs and CCIOs.  

“You need that face-to-face time and sometimes you need one-to-one time with the patient,” Healy adds.

“We don’t want to replace anything the clinician does with a piece of technology, we want to make sure that the clinician has more time with the patient. So it is very much about the culture and the collaboration between all elements and roles of healthcare to make sure the right decisions are made,” Cleary of the Irish Computer Society says.  

As with any change management programme with a large technology component changing the culture of organisations is the largest challenge.  Over many years of dealing with healthcare CIOs this author has seen the pride and passion that healthcare professionals have in the care and service they deliver, but that same passion can, at times, be an inhibitor to change making a meaningful difference.

Muiris O’Connor, Head of R&D and Health Analytics at the Department of Health

“It goes back to data, information and knowledge.  Those very knowledgeable clinicians will sometimes need some help initially,” Healy says of how CCIOs can target early adopters who will help their peers embrace new eHealth methods and drive a widespread growth.

“You have got to embed the concept of lifelong learning for everybody. The clinicians need to be given a pathway and an incentive an

d they need to see that it is going to improve them as clinicians, not give them more work to do. They don’t want to see a patient and then have to spend an hour inputting data, it has to be seamless, not a burden, the tech facilitates everything and that is why it is so important that there is that meeting of minds between the clinicians and the IT professionals and the CCIO role is attempting to do that,” says Cleary.

CCIO Healy says: “If we can get the citizens to be demanding that clinicians are tech savvy then that is the motivation for the clinician and the tie up with eHealth, privacy and data is incredible as they are so united.”






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