15 ways health IT execs can become better leaders

Increasing amounts of data, diverse ways to use information and efforts to better serve patients and clinicians offer new opportunities.

As healthcare organizations aim to make better use of data they’re collecting from information systems, they’re exploring ways to improve performance, cut costs, and better serve both patients and clinicians. That’s providing new opportunities for healthcare IT executives, who may be looking to enhance their standing in the C-suite, improve skills or expand into other healthcare data-related and digital leadership roles. Here are tips on how to maximize your chances – some traditional and some out of the box -- from executives at the forefront of digital transformation.


Accelerate change in the organization
“Don’t let perfect get in the way of progress. … When you do it quickly, you will not meet that entire set of requirements but you will meet the important ones,” says Liz Johnson, retired chief innovation officer, Tenet Healthcare, referring to agile vs. a traditional waterfall project methodology.

Be digital yourself
What is analog in your life that you could do digitally? Push yourself beyond mobile boarding passes and mobile banking. Leverage all the technology in your vehicle. Try voice activation in your home. These experiences will help you better understand what powerhouses like Google or Amazon are doing and how that can be applied to patient care.

Change your technology
A diehard Apple or Android person? Get over it. Take the time to learn the technologies your customers use.

Refresh skill sets, expand knowledge through continuing education
For instance, you may not need to understand the intricacies of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), but you should know what it offers and how it may bring value to your organization.

Use your network of IT execs to understand the industry’s trajectory
Ask colleagues what they are dealing with, where there are gaps, and what you need to know to be effective in your job.

Build relationships within your C-suite
Listen and offer ideas to help them succeed. Be authentic and humble in your interactions with them.

Make sure there are no surprises
Share relevant information with stakeholders at an executive level without overdoing it.

Enjoy the work you do
Celebrate your wins with your teams and peers. “We are converting data into insights. It is awesome,” contends Omer Awan, chief data and digital officer, Atrium Health.

Get to know your team members and how they click
“I love doing icebreakers. ‘If you had a boat, what would you call it?’ ‘If you could watch only one movie over and over, what would it be?’ ‘Would you rather be an astronaut or an Olympic gold medalist?’ Fun things. And why? You start to understand how people think and you get in their heads,” says Sarah Richardson, CIO, Tivity Health.

Create a culture that nurtures those who work with you
To build a team that can respond to new data challenges, leaders should enable their teams to feel safe telling them bad as well as good news. Let them see the leader in respectful debate with peers so they know honesty is encouraged and appreciated.

Get involved in healthcare IT-related public policy
Knowing what’s coming down the pike with policy will inform you about current and upcoming developments in the digital and IT arenas, enable you to try to proactively shape policies before they are locked in stone and let you alert leadership to rules and events that will impact the organization. “Part of why I do the HITAC (the federal Health IT Advisory Committee) and the public policy things is not only can I affect positive change for the country, but I also am able to bring some of that brainstorming back to my organization and say, ‘Heads up. They are thinking about a new HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which has a more arduous breach notification rule. What would that do to us?’ We are able to think about the drive across country before we make the drive across country,” says Aaron Miri, chief digital and information officer, Baptist Health, who is serving his second term on the HITAC.

Participate on advisory boards outside of healthcare
Health IT executives that expand their vision broadly will get exposed to leaders from other industries and learn problem-solving strategies and solutions that might apply to healthcare.

Volunteer at your hospital or health system
Execs who roll up their sleeves and help out will experience first-hand the challenges that patients, physicians and other clinicians face, and thus they’ll be able to better serve them.

Mingle with people who are different
Those who are older, younger, of another race or culture have valuable lessons to teach. The experience may help you think differently and spark new ideas.

Engage your heart as well as your head
“You have to take all your head knowledge, all your brainy stuff, and let it impact your heart. That is when you get digital transformation. If you don’t understand the reason you should be doing it and how to better the experience for our clinicians and patients, then you will really miss the boat,” says Ed Marx, chief digital officer, Tech Mahindra Health and Life Sciences.

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