Outlook for the Chief Clinical Information Officer Role

by Beverly Harvey

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CCIO

The role of Chief Clinical Information (or Informatics) Officer has its earliest roots half a century ago amid the emergence of Electronic Health Records (EHR), also known as Electronic Medical Records (EMR). For some organizations, the CCIO role is interchangeable with the Chief Medical Information/Informatics Officer (CMIO) role (and sometimes Chief Health Information/Informatics Officer), while in others, CCIOs work side-by-side with CMIOs, as well as with clinical informatics chiefs in multiple disciplines, such as nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry.

The role leads clinical informatics and is a “vital marriage of insight into clinical strategy and understanding of digital technology and systems,” Chloe Dobinson writes on the CIO site. Dobinson goes on to note that the role combines the clinical perspective with strategy, with an eye toward scoping out innovative technology for the organization.

The year 2016 was significant for the CCIO role as the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) released a report authored by Joseph Kannry and seven other researchers that was designed to define the highly heterogeneous role in terms of knowledge, education, skillsets, and operational scope. “Ensuring that the health system understands and incorporates effectively essential clinical HIT [Health Information Technology] requires the addition of the CCIO to the traditional CIO position,” Kannry et al state in the report.

Key Competencies for the CCIO Role

The CCIO role requires a bachelor’s or advanced degree in information technology, nursing, healthcare administration, or other related field. Many CCIOs climb the ladder from clinical backgrounds, including nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry, but as the AMIA report notes, “non-clinicians have very successfully executed this role.” Still, it’s not unusual for a CCIO candidate to be expected to bring at least five years of health-practitioner experience to the role, along with a background in clinical informatics and project management. Would-be CCIOs from non-clinical backgrounds must still possess insight and experience in healthcare settings, the AMIA report points out. CCIOs typically report to the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CCIO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Subject-matter knowledge of clinical informatics, health-information systems/applications, programming, hardware, and the healthcare system
  • Clinical decision-making skills
  • Clinical-care process improvement skills
  • Quality-improvement ability
  • Data analysis
  • Human-factors engineering
  • Ability to lead and manage change
  • Financial planning for clinical information systems
  • Strategic and collaborative decision-making
  • Grasp of the global healthcare context
  • Strong familiarity with and ability to analyze the clinical environment and clinical workflows
  • Up-to-date knowledge of health information systems and trends in the field
  • Commitment to protecting privacy and security
  • Problem-solving skills 

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CCIO role, expand their horizons in an existing CCIO role, or even rise beyond the CCIO role:

  • Demonstrate collaborative competencies. In an article on the site Healthcare Innovation, Rajiv Leventhal suggests that top clinical-information officers should closely align with Chief Information Officers, to whom they often report, also citing situations in which the lack of collaboration has been unworkable. Collaboration with the CIO, CMIO (if applicable), and IT teams to deliver efficient, cost-effective and adaptable technology products aims at “improving the patient journey and overall healthcare,” Dobinson notes. Similarly, in an interview conducted by Mark Hagland, George Reynolds, M.D., CIO, and CMIO of Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Omaha, suggests candidates “should know how to develop a team, build consensus, and establish relationships of trust.”
  • Obtain a board certification and join professional organizations. Hilary Ross, one of the executives Levanthal profiles in his article, suggests that high-level clinical informaticists “continue to add to their expertise by looking at analytics through a board certification of informatics, as well as joining organizations such as the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) and the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS), where candidates can take advantage of their educational committees.” 
  • Know cutting-edge technologies. As in most areas of business, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have grown increasingly important in healthcare informatics, so knowledge of these emerging technologies is an advantage. Writing for Becker’s Hospital Review, Diane Nole observes, AI’s “value will be in augmenting clinicians and optimizing their time.” Expertise in robotics, 3D bioprinting, nanomedicine, cloud computing can also boost CCIO marketability. A detailed infographic from the site Health Informatics describes how these technologies are used in healthcare. 
  • Adopt a patient-centered perspective. In describing their vision for a technology-based system in healthcare, Keith Horvath and his 10 co-authors observe that “patients and clinicians desire technology that facilitates access to and use of health information and communication tools leading to quality, person-centered care.” Prospective CCIOs with the will and creativity to promote through informatics what the authors describe ­– a reduced administrative burden, enhanced clinical care, and knowledge-sharing capabilities that benefit the patient – may be poised to make their mark in clinical-informatics leadership.

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