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Healthcare CIOs: The 2025 agents of change

Jens Koegler, Healthcare Industry Director, VMware

The global healthcare industry is evolving at a breakneck speed and change, both planned and unplanned, is coming from every direction. New technologies, interconnected patient data and improved drug developments are facilitating a move to a patient-centered model of care. At the same time the industry is having to adapt and react to new challenges in the face of global pandemics, increasing regulatory mandates and sophisticated cybersecurity threats.

For healthcare organisations, it is creating an environment where establishing consistency and continuity in operations, practices and care are critical for success. And sitting at the centre of it all is the Chief Information Officer (CIO). A position that was once seen as merely providing software and computer support must now provide strategic business leadership. Eighty-seven percent of healthcare CIOs see themselves as the primary leaders of change management within their organizations, so what does this mean for the services they reside over? CIOs are the agents of change as our recent report, ‘The Healthcare CIO of 2025’, looks at in detail.

Rewriting the CIO rulebook

Compiled in conjunction with a global Forbes Insight survey of healthcare CIOs, the report reveals that a host of technologies are uniting to transform the way the healthcare industry treats patients and develops new cures. The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), cloud technologies, smartphone adoption and an explosion of data capture has suddenly enabled data to be linked together and processed for new insights. A classic example is something we saw in 2020 with the development, and rapid deployment, of track and trace apps to fight the spread of Covid-19.

This is putting CIOs front and centre of the debate when it comes to digital transformation in healthcare. Something that is going to change the role beyond all recognition by 2025.

Moving medicine from reactive to proactive

We’re already seeing machine learning (ML) helping healthcare organisations generate, collect, and store vast amounts of clinical data. It can identify patterns invisible to the human eye and come up with early diagnosis of serious diseases, catching them soon enough for effective treatment. But this is the crest of a wave in the way emerging technology is having an impact.

In the coming years, 5G will enable surgeons to perform robotic operations from a distance. Augmented reality will change the way an operation is performed or the documentation of care. AI will help us to carry out time-consuming standard activities faster and more reliably, and better evaluate correlations that are difficult to detect. Already today, patients are being equipped with modern sensor technology in order to automatically evaluate exercises and therapy results in real-time post an operation.   

It is the CIO that will facilitate the transition in integrating this technology and to maximise its impact. This will place the position as the key driver when it comes to moving medicine from a reactive to a proactive discipline.

Data sharing revolution

It is clear that the envisaged exchange of health data can lead to a quantum leap in how, individually, we can care for patients and how much faster we can achieve medical knowledge. Only recently, an algorithm was developed that analyses CT imagery in seconds. It declares, for example, whether a patient has a high risk of viral pneumonia from coronavirus or not. This is a valuable additional layer of information for the doctor in charge, and while it is processed a few thousand times a day, it does not cost the radiologist any extra time in his or her work. Curtis Langlotz, a radiologist at Stanford, called it exactly when saying, “AI won’t replace radiologists, but radiologists who use AI will replace radiologists who don’t”

Think also of the documentation on interactions of thousands of medications, depending on certain health conditions, which are updated daily. It is impossible for a person to keep up to date and remember them. No problem for a machine that only needs to be fed with the right data. When you add in the proliferation of wearables and portables and the information being created from these devices from everything from heart rate levels for recovering stroke or heart attack patients right through to basic exercise numbers, you have a phenomenal amount of data.

But the impact of this fluidity of information goes way beyond the patients themselves. Caregivers, doctors and administrative staff are now much better equipped to work remotely or from home. For instance, the use of digital workspaces allows employees to work from a suitable location – keeping them out of harm’s way when it comes to major virus outbreaks – but at the same time, ensuring patient continuity remains and routine contact is maintained.

Balancing all of this is going to be a fundamental requirement of the CIO and one that is not without challenge.

From CIO to CEO

As well as managing these leading-edge deployments, healthcare CIOs will have an opportunity to champion the cultural shift that it is likely to bring. Widespread technological changes are likely to see significant changes to the way clinicians work and interact with each other and with patients. Some old and new jobs may involve interacting more with intelligent systems to complete complex tasks which will require training, collaboration, hand holding and patience. So much so that the CIO 2025 survey found that among healthcare organisations, CIOs believe that gaining employee buy-in and collaboration is the single most important aspect of managing a successful technology implementation.

Where the CIO is key is that, understanding and implementing technology and tools that are proven in other industries and sectors will be a crucial element of a successful uptake. By proxy, it will align the role of the CIO with the wider management direction and place the position in a powerful position to affect change. Perhaps then, it is not surprising that our report also found that, by 2025, more than half of healthcare CIOs surveyed expect to be CEO.

CIO of 2025

The healthcare CIO of 2025 requires championing change and becoming an increasingly visible leader across the organisation. These executives must master the deployment and management of existing and emerging technologies for better patient outcomes, take responsibility for finding new lines of business, and become accountable for generating revenue through them. They also must continue to thwart cyberattackers while protecting the privacy and security of health data and systems – all while helping drive corporate social responsibility.

But CIOs will not be alone on this journey. Cooperative caregivers, reliable partners, and expert vendors will help them transform the cost, quality, and delivery of patient care on their digital transformation journeys.

Download a copy of the Healthcare CIO of 2025 report here.


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