With CMIOs, physicians can put focus back on patient

The health care industry's focus during this year's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference may have fallen on the battle over meaningful use and ICD-10 between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and various groups, such as the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association. However, new survey results indicated that the chief medical information officer is asserting itself as a crucial position within the transition to new technologies in health care. By acting as an intermediary between physicians and the new systems they must adopt, practices large and small are benefiting from the use of CMIOs in their workplace.

Working together
The onset of the later stages of meaningful use requirements has resulted in an increase in the number of administrative tasks physicians must complete as part of their patient examinations. This has led to serious criticism of EHR systems from doctors who feel they are not able to provide the same level of care to patients as before.

Lorren Pettit, vice president of market research for HIMSS, told EHR Intelligence that the medical industry has seen the role of the CMIO grow from a niche position to one of paramount importance in bridging the gap between patient-centered care and technology-focused reform.

"When you think about the physicians and CMIOs coming on, they bring in this culture [of] connectivity and analytics," Pettit told EHR Intelligence. "They are willing to take technology and be analytical and [are] willing to use devices and platforms that connect them to others and help them with their decision processes."

Pettit shared data from HIMSS's 2014 Leadership Survey, which showed the number of physicians who reported working with a CMIO almost doubled – the 2012 mark stood at 22 percent, while in 2013, it jumped to 40 percent.

This is not surprising to Pettit, who explained that it has not been a lack of interest that has kept many physicians from happily participating in the administrative processes of their practices, but rather a lack of time. The constraints of an active practice forces physicians to focus first and foremost on the patient. Administrative tasks that do not immediately improve patient care may be seen by physicians as ancillary, Pettit explained, or worse, in opposition.

"When you have an organization that really blends the two or says that of this tradition of hierarchy we have a culture that recognizes the value and the importance of physicians, your physicians aren't going to be coyotes," Pettit told EHR Intelligence. "They're actually going to join the herd."

Translating needs to physicians, limits to administrators
Not a practicing physician but not a full-fledged health care administrator, the CMIO occupies an important space in the structure of health care. While doctors may butt heads with those running the business of medicine, the CMIO can mediate the desires of the two parties.

Speaking to Healthcare IT News, Pamela Dixon, managing partner at health care recruiting firm SSi-Search, explained that the CMIO is effectively a translator of wants and needs from one side of the health care spectrum to the other.

"The CMIO must understand and translate physician needs while also translating the health system's business and clinical initiatives as well as constraints," Dixon told Healthcare IT News.

The health care industry is juggling so many balls at the moment – meaningful use, ICD-10 and the ever-present challenge of patient care – that the CMIO provides a crucial service for practices that experience workflow disruptions from EHR software. Rather than criticizing the technology, an increasing number of practices are hiring CMIOs to help connect medicine and records systems like never before.