As healthcare IT evolves, so do organizations and the responsibilities of physician leaders

As healthcare organizations strive to adapt and survive in the ever-changing environment jolted by the Affordable Care Act, we’re seeing indirect effects in executive recruitment. In this two-part series, we’ll tackle: 


  • The evolution of the CMIO role in the past five years; what healthcare organizations now look for in candidates

  • Characteristics of new-age CMIOs


  • How physicians interested in IT (and those who already are CMIOs) can grow their knowledge and skills 


A few trends have emerged in this space. Healthcare organizations seek CMIO candidates with a strong IT background. In some cases, the CMIO may function as the CIO. Let’s reflect on the CMIO role and compare it to the CIO function. 

The CMIO position is held by a physician with experience in planning, implementing and developing an EHR/EMR infrastructure, as well as facilitating its integration and promoting adoption and compliance, specifically among clinicians. The CMIO also is among the team responsible for incorporating health information exchange, the platform needed to enable meaningful use and interoperability for population health efforts and among accountable care organizations – components tied to healthcare reform. 

Trending now are organizations asking for a CMIO who not only can dive into the technical waters of the EHR/EMR, but also work with physicians in their use of informatics. For example, this could include helping physicians analyze patient data to help them identify the best course of care (and thus outcome) for an individual. On a broader scale, hospitals and health systems can use this data to better manage their community’s health. Why ask a physician to do this? Credibility; physician adoption improves substantially when a clinical peer shows them how their workflow and patient care can be improved through effective use of the EHR/EMR.

Because a large part of IT work is data-centered and impacts clinical staff, a physician’s expertise in informatics and its application are becoming more important as we approach this era of evolution. This is especially true within organizations in progressed stages of the reform continuum, where for instance a physician’s knowledge in EHR/EMR adoption may be downplayed. 

The CIO: The traditional healthcare CIO position encompassed more components of a “functional IT” role, i.e., one that maintained the IT environment. This included championing the finance of applications, ensuring the operability of back-office applications and building desktops. With the adoption of EHR/EMR systems from Epic, Cerner and McKesson, more organizations are using these systems to improve safety, quality and efficiency, and help improve revenues. Thus, we’ve seen an evolution in the past five years of CIOs who managed day-to-day IT matters to more contemporary ones who are setting strategy and working with the CMIO to use clinical informatics to paint a landscape that impacts meaningful use, population health and the bottom line. As such, new titles for the CIO function have sprouted, such as Chief Data Officer and Chief Transformation Officer. In other cases, we have seen healthcare organizations substitute the role of the CIOs altogether with a CMIO who has a strong technology background and can assume both roles. 

Once an organization has identified a need for a CMIO, several options exist for identifying such individuals – 

  1. Recruiting top talent using internal resources or with the help of a search firm; keep in mind there is a tremendous supply shortage in physicians with the new skills required for today's CMIO role. 

  2. Sourcing their network

  3. Grooming talent internally 

Most organizations employ Nos. 1 and 2, as No. 3 is longer term in nature.


As the responsibilities of the CMIO evolves, so do the skills and experience needed to accomplish objectives. More organizations are asking for candidates who meet the following specifications: 

  1. Exemplary relationship builders who connect not only physicians, but all key stakeholders in efforts to propel strategic objectives. New-age CMIOs are superb collaborators, communicators and influencers. They regard colleagues in quality, nursing, case management and the C-suite (especially the CEO, COO and CNO) as partners.

    This skill also is essential when working with EHR/EMR vendors to develop new capabilities and functionality to meet the informatics strategy for the health system. For example, CMIOs must work with varying levels of support, services and sales in a vendor’s organization.

  2. While a deep understanding of technology was prized in yesterday’s CMIO, tomorrow’s IT physician executive possesses strategic prowess.That is, he/she is able to see the big picture and uses analytics and IT to favorably impact hospital outcomes, clinical transformation and population health. 

  3. Understanding IT infrastructure places physician executives at a tremendous advantage.