At CHIME fall forum, change was in the air

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If I had to choose one theme for this year's College of Healthcare Information Management Executives fall forum, held last week in Indian Wells, Calif., it would be change.

And I'm talking about more than the huge challenges of health IT programs such as Meaningful Use or looming projects such as the conversion to the ICD-10 code set.

CIOs today are responsible for so much more than implementing, managing and servicing information systems. They are key players in the shifting landscape of healthcare, from new reimbursement models to new models of care, providing the technological underpinnings for mission critical programs that improve quality and patient safety, reduce costs and boost operational efficiency.

And then there's the changing role of CHIME itself--the organization, which counts 1,400 CIO and health IT leader members, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In the early days, one of the group's main advocacy efforts was promoting the role of CIO in the healthcare industry.

Today, "that's not good enough," CHIME board member Charles Christian, CIO of Good Samaritan Hospital in southwest Indiana, told me in an interview at the forum last week.

"If we're not the voice, someone else will be that voice and we'll wind up just doing what everybody else is deciding, which is more than likely going to be the wrong thing," he said. "We have some really smart people that have no life outside of what we do, and we'll be more than happy to read many, many pages of federal regs and try to figure out what they mean."

I met with CHIME's three newest board members at least week's forum to discuss the changing role of the organization, as well as changes in other areas of healthcare and health IT.

In this excerpt from the interview, Christian, Pamela Arora, vice president and CIO of Dallas-based Children's Medical Center, and George McCulloch, Jr., associate director and deputy CIO, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, talk about the professional organization's current and emerging areas of focus and the needs of small and rural hospitals.

FierceHealthIT: What are some of the top goals and objectives for CHIME this year?

Charles Christian:  CHIME has come a long, long way in the realm of advocacy and being viewed as that source of information and reasonableness. Nobody's swinging from the branches and nobody's screaming or pounding on their chest. We're trying to look at the industry as a whole and be supportive of the things we need to be supportive of, and then call them out when we're saying "What are you thinking?"

It was really rewarding for me to hear [National Coordinator for Health IT Farzad Mostashari, M.D., who spoke at the forum]. When asked about the letters from the House and now the Senate [questioning the Meaningful Use program], he basically said, "Well, I'll just tell you what CHIME said." That's the role we need to play; as a trusted advisor to ONC.

Pamela Arora: Another priority is reaching out to the rural areas and figuring out a funding model so they can join. When you look at CHIME's desire to influence and help change health IT, you can't just focus on the large organizations. Quite frankly, they have their financial challenges as well. But the larger organizations tend to have the bigger IT shop.

And from that vantage point, the rural hospitals and clinics really need the aid that can be provided by an organization like CHIME. Even when you take a look at a travel budget for an organization of that size, it's really hard for them to be able to join at these sessions--and they can get so much out of them.

Christian: I live in the cornfields. It's just an availability of resources. The smaller hospitals start from behind.

FierceHealthIT: So how will you reach out to those organizations?

George McCulloch, Jr.: We've already started with online education and things are only going to continue, because we can't expect everyone is going to come here. We have to meet them where they are. That's certainly part of the strategy: How do we disseminate information and create collaborative groups that face common problems?

FHIT: Can small and rural providers learn from larger providers? Or are the two types of organizations simply too different?

McCulloch: Based on the resources, how a larger organization would solve a problem might be different than the way a small one would. And certainly our technology would be different and our ability to innovate is different. But we face the same problems. It's more about where we can collaborate. How does an organization decide to standardize practice, employ evidence based medicine, for example, into the clinical settings of whatever size organization. It's more about adoption.

More changes to come

After the discussion, above, about the changing role of CHIME, the conversation moved on to the role of the CIO in today's healthcare organization, technology to support accountable care and medical home models, the challenges of health information exchange and more.

Be sure to read FierceHealthIT in coming days for more excerpts from the discussion. Meanwhile, feel free to chime in (no pun intended): How has the role of the health IT leader changed in the past 20 years? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section, below. - Gienna (@Gienna)

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.