The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, in partnership with LexisNexis Risk Solutions, recently asked some of its chief information officer members what they’re focusing on, tactically or strategically, for the year ahead.

Depending on the size or type of their organization – hospitals, long-term care facilities, health plans – the CIOs said they’re pursuing electronic health record upgrades, bolstered cybersecurity, better data governance, improved patient engagement and more in 2019.

According to the report, which asked more than 30 leaders and decision makers about their top priorities, those orgs that are still in early stages IT adoption and upgrades have their sights set primarily on the basics of cybersecurity and interoperability.

For the former, CIOs are investing in a variety of tools to combat sophisticated external and internal threats. More advanced organizations are using “multiple layers of security, including one-time passwords, biometrics and knowledge-based authentication, to address vulnerabilities in the system infrastructure,” according to the CHIME study.

As for interoperability, many of those polled say they’re working to move beyond the many challenges of exchange in whatever way they can, trying to overcome internal and external data flow hurdles and working toward optimizing that data for seamless delivery into clinical workflows.

Those healthcare organizations that have more robust information exchange infrastructures says they’re looking ahead to improved data governance, and to building out directories for both patients and providers, the report shows.

“While most participants primarily handle data warehousing and are not yet responsible for data quality, they acknowledge that a silo approach to data governance does not work,” researchers wrote. “They focus on an enterprise-wide effort that includes significant input from health information management and quality assurance.”

And those organizations also recognize, even as their data management processes are challenged by upheavals such as mergers and acquisitions, that “maintaining accurate provider directories supports more efficient referrals and coordination of care.”

The CIOs surveyed from healthcare organizations with the most advanced IT maturity, meanwhile, say they’re most focused on analytics and patient engagement for the year ahead.

With exchange mechanisms in place and data governance well in hand, the health systems are sifting through their data to better risk-stratify their patients, make smarter decisions based on payer mix and gain visibility across the care continuum, according to the report. Many, however, are still seeing that, even at this mature phase of EHR deployment, data integrity is still a challenge in getting accurate insights.”

Still, these organization are moving full speed ahead on patient engagement efforts, according to the CHIME members polled. “This is a strategic initiative for executives as they strive to provide healthcare consumers with virtual care options, personalize patient experience and enhance communication with providers,” researchers said.

This past year, Healthcare IT News explored the continually changing role of the “modern” hospital CIO, noting what some have called a “third wave” in the way the profession is defined and the responsibilities it entails.

“In the ’80s and ’90s it was kind of a plumber type person who got the network working, got the servers running, got the emails going, and that was their job,” Phoenix Children’s Hospital CIO David Higginson explained. “Next, in the 2000s, we got into having great big budgets and being tasked by the organization to ‘Go make this thing happen.’ I think a lot of CIOs today did really well in that project management, system implementation-type field.”

Today, “we’re moving toward more of an information science,” he said. “All that effort and all that money we’ve spent getting data into the system – now what are we going to do with it?”

Indeed, ceaseless digital evolution is constantly reshaping the roles of the healthcare CIO and the other IT professionals that work alongside them. But as can be seen from this new report, many of the challenges facing these pros are the same ones the industry has been grappling with for some time: EHR optimization, data exchange, cybersecurity, governance, analytics and more.

That said, as they maintain their focus on those imperatives, many CIOs are also trying to also make advances in other areas – souping up their technology infrastructure to position their organizations for the future, and trying their hand at an array of innovative pilots and proof-of-concept alongside the big items on their to-do lists.

“The focus group shows that organizations are driven by the desire to do what’s right for the patient, not merely complying with a regulation,” said Josh Schoeller, SVP and general manager of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Health Care, in a statement.

“This is evident in how they approach every challenge inherent in various levels of EHR integration,” he added, “from ensuring accuracy of patient data, protecting it, and sharing it in a meaningful way to collaborating across departments to deliver personalized, high-quality care, to innovating to engage patients. Data governance is a complex, evolving journey, not a destination.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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