Healthcare information technology continues to gain importance as a strategic tool for providers, and there’s more willingness to include clinical IT professionals as part of the team directing technology efforts.

“What organizations are beginning to discern is the importance of clinical IT executives,” said Carla Smith, executive vice president for HIMSS North America. “More organizations are embracing the CIO and the chief medical information officer (CMIO) and chief nursing information officer (CNIO) as a linked team that can take an organization where it needs to go.”

In discussing results from the 27th annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, Smith said that more than half of respondents (53 percent) said their organizations had a CMIO in 2015, compared with only 36 percent of respondents in 2012.

CNIOs have not quite taken hold yet, but the percentage of respondents who reported that their organizations have a person in that role doubled on a percentage basis, from 9 percent in 2012 to 18 percent in 2015.

Respondents from 71 percent of organizations employing a CNIO said that he or she was part of their organization’s executive team, while respondents from 59 percent of organizations said their CMIO was also among its senior leaders.

Some 71 percent of respondents said their organization has a IT leader with clinical expertise. Some 14 percent have a chief clinical informatics officer, while 44 percent have some other type of IT leader with a clinical background.

Respondents working for an organization with a clinical IT executive were more likely to strongly agree with the strategic nature of IT tools (86 percent), compared with those who work for organizations that do not have a clinical IT officer (62 percent).

In addition, respondents working at an organization with a clinical IT executive tended to place more importance on the impact of health IT in the areas of care coordination, where there was a 23.4 percentage point difference over organizations that did not have a clinical IT executive; post-acute care management, a 19 percentage point difference; and the use of evidence-based medicine, a 16.6 percentage point difference.

CIOs are increasingly gaining respect from fellow executives and their boards of directors, Smith said. Nearly four out of five senior executives now see their CIO as the “voice of IT” within an organization last year, and nearly two-thirds of board members now place the CIO in that same role.

As financial and competitive pressures tighten on healthcare organizations, they are expecting IT to address key needs, Smith said. Some 86.9 percent of respondents said their organizations look to IT to help sustain financial viability; 84.4 percent want IT to assist in improving patient satisfaction; 83 percent of respondents say IT has been tasked with improving patient care or outcomes; 72.7 percent mentioned improving operational efficiency; and 72.3 percent said their organizations want IT to help with improving physician satisfaction.

Also mentioned as areas that will be priorities for healthcare organizations over the next 12 months were facilitating mandated quality metrics improvement (mentioned by 69.5 percent); improving care coordination (69.2 percent); increasing market share or the ability to compete in a market (65.6 percent); achieving secure interoperability of health information (65.6 percent); and achieving meaningful use of electronic health records (61.4 percent).

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