Q: I am a hospital CEO, and our organization needs to hire a Chief Information Officer (CIO). Are there unique attributes we need to look for in candidates?

A: (By Stefan M. Werdegar, VP) A healthcare CIO is a complex position demanding someone with multifaceted attributes. Today’s CIO is an executive who can look outside of technology and understand the strategic direction of healthcare. This will enable the CIO to better use information technology (IT) to assist the hospital in positioning itself for the rapid changes every healthcare organization is experiencing in our current marketplace.

The CIO needs to be able to help the organization understand the value of adopting new technology and systems, showing how these will improve patient care, quality, access to data, physician adoption and the bottom line. The CIO also needs to have strong financial acumen and be able to work closely with the CFO in the cost justification of a variety of technology projects. Therefore, he/she must possess both a business and technology background.

The CIO must be able to work across the organization in a matrixed fashion, influencing physicians, nurses and quality-management players and executives, to name a few, as IT has an across-the-board effect.

The CIO needs to be a true leader (not a manager) who can set direction for his/her teams. Typical IT teams are comprised of personnel in: decision support, networks, infrastructure, applications, and physician and other clinical informatics areas. A CIO must be able to drive the efforts of these complex teams forward.

A CIO also needs to understand how the implementation of new clinical and revenue-cycle systems impact workflow and can improve healthcare. He/she will become responsible for implementing these systems, and must learn to deal effectively with vendor organizations and the many contracts that govern the systems within the IT department.

Further, a CIO has to understand how technology can provide a foundation for the hospital to adapt to all of the current regulatory challenges affecting healthcare. He/she has to be able to think "outside the box," continually able to look at ways that technology can help patients interact with healthcare providers, access their information and receive preventive care from home.

The CIO does not necessarily have to come from a technical background, and in fact, many CIOs today come from other industries or business disciplines outside of technology. A healthcare CIO must understand the healthcare environment, however. In general, a CIO must know how to lead, deal with change, adapt to new cultures and survive in a highly political environment.

Best of luck in your search for a versatile leader for this vital position.

Reach Stefan M. Werdegar, VP, Healthcare IT and Technology Practice Leader, at +1 512 329 2784 or swerdegar@tylerandco.com.

For more on this subject, please read, "Hiring or promoting the RIGHT Chief Information Officer."