What’s the difference between healthcare IT professionals and their peers in other industries?

What’s the difference between healthcare IT professionals and their peers in other industries? Well, the answer might depend on how the healthcare IT professional answers that classic cocktail party question: “So, what do you do for a living?”

“What makes the great individuals in IT great? The answer is they don’t see themselves in IT,” said Craig Schiefelbein on the closing day of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives fall forum in San Antonio last week. “They’re in healthcare.”

So, what do you do? Are you in IT (or finance, quality, or marketing, or any other department within a provider organization)? Or are you in healthcare?

The answer, says Schiefelbein, who is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon Development Systems and author of the book “Get Out of IT While You Can,” can make a difference in how happy you are. It also impacts a lot of other areas that are important to any organization, but critical in healthcare, from patient experience to quality to long-term sustainable growth.

It’s so easy to bend your head down and get lost in the day-to-day to-do list. And there are a lot of things to do on the IT department’s list these days—little things like implementing electronic medical records and preparing for ICD-10 coding changes, for example.

When you have a chance to look up, chances are you’re sitting in yet another meeting room looking at yet another PowerPoint presentation.

In fact, as Schiefelbein pointed out (and a show of hands from the audience confirmed) IT is often housed away from patients. Although it has moved up from the basement, it has also moved out to administrative buildings or wings.

IT needs to get back into the hospital, he said, shadowing clinicians and workers in a variety of departments. In some organizations I’ve talked to, workers from IT and other departments participate in rounds in order to bring those non-patient facing departments face-to-face with the sole reason the healthcare organization exists.

Schiefelbein also encouraged IT leaders—even those who consider themselves over-achievers—to reach beyond their comfort zone. Both the IT team and the department as a whole must be much more strategic, and focused on business, mission, and customers—especially patients.

Long-term sustainable growth comes from physician and patient loyalty, he added, and those are most impacted by experience.

“If you want to move to the next level, you can’t just be the best you can be; you have to be the best in your industry,” he said.

For example, he said, many IT departments are focused on coming up with programs that help reduce costs, which is critical. But to truly be strategic, they must also think about how to apply those cost-reductions in strategic ways.

People can go through their entire careers without ever contributing a strategic idea, he said.

Here’s a quick litmus test to see if you and your staff are strategic: Imagine that the CEO has a meeting with key stakeholders and asks someone from the department to step in and explain the organization’s objectives and strategies for long-term growth, talk about how it will ensure the best possible patient experience, and describe its core competencies.

Could you? Could your IT staff?

And what do you do for a living? I’d like to hear from you: Join our discussion on LinkedIn to answer the question and let us know if you think the answer makes a difference in your organization.


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