The Healthcare CIO’s Playbook for 2022, Part I: Losing Sleep

By Hillary Ross, J.D. and Nick Giannas

The COVID-19 pandemic elevated the role of CIO to a level that it hasn’t experienced before. In healthcare, this means added responsibilities, challenging opportunities and new concerns for the executives who hold the CIO position.

Heading into 2022, there are many issues that weigh on the minds of the healthcare CIO. We checked in with some of the leading chief information officers in the industry to see what is keeping them up at night. Here’s what they told us, focusing mainly on two areas: the IT workforce and cybersecurity. (In Part II, we’ll look at these executives’ predictions for the coming year.)

What is your most daunting challenge for the future? What keeps you up at night?

Tony Ambrozie, CIO, Baptist Health South Florida: CIOs are driving new technologies and business transformation that are revolutionizing healthcare, Ambrozie says. “How we manage that business transformation is, for all leaders, the most daunting challenge because it is about changing the very core of what and how we do things, retooling fundamental activities and processes, all in the service of our customers. At an extreme, one of the most important customer expectations is keeping their information and the systems they depend on secure. Thus, above everything else, cybersecurity is what keeps most CIOs up at night.”

Lisa Stump, CIO, Yale New Haven Health System: “Increasing competition and newer entrants into healthcare challenge us to rethink our business and service model for delivering care. We don’t tend to move very quickly as a health care industry given the regulatory and payer complexities. Technology and consumer giants entering the healthcare space are reshaping care delivery. We need to adapt while we maintain our ability to provide high acuity care, education and research.”

Tim Tarnowski, CIO, Indiana University Health: Tim loses sleep over “recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse next-generation workforce. The competition for labor has increased dramatically during the pandemic with other industries now fiercely competing more directly for the same talent as the healthcare industry.” In addition, he says, “upcoming demographic changes point to a shrinking labor pool.”

Chero Goswami, CIO, University of Wisconsin Health: “Recruiting and retaining a top class workforce in light of the national labor shortage” is Chero’s greatest concern today. He is also concerned about: “exponentially rising costs and investments related to cybersecurity and mitigating ransomware risks.”

Zafar Chaudry, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Seattle Children’s: “Sustaining and retaining a hybrid workforce, keeping them engaged and mentally well” is what keeps him up at night. “In addition, security remains a constantly high priority. I’m seeing a growing amount of pressure on both OpEx/CapEx budgets with a continued push to do more for less.”

Paul Conocenti, CIO, Montage Health: Paul’s greatest concern is “building a world-class IT team while COVID continues to haunt the collaboration needed to do so.” In addition, he says, “Cybersecurity requires people, process, and technology to work harmoniously together in order to best protect against threats.  We are investing significantly on building out technology solutions. However, the weakest link exposes the organization.” One such weak link: “People not being mindful of email links and attachments.”

David Seo, CIO, Nicklaus Children’s Health System: “The most daunting challenge remains IT security/cybersecurity. A malware attack remains the most likely reason for an acute and widespread interruption of business in the healthcare space. A successful malware attack has damaging long-term effects to reputation, infrastructure and team morale as well. The challenge here is that our patients and workforce want more access, which makes it more difficult to secure the business.”

Donna Roach, CIO, University of Utah Health: “One of the most daunting challenges in health care IT is to be proactive with security measures to protect our systems and ultimately our patients’ data. When a breach occurs, the amount of effort to address this takes away from the important work of caring for our patients, clinicians, and community. The bad actors have taken advantage of the pandemic to create more disruption in our systems as we deliver care. Staying proactive while maintaining a consistent, reliable, and safe environment is always foremost in my mind.”

Therefore, while there are a range of issues that weigh on today’s healthcare CIOs, there appears to be consensus with those executives we communicated with that cybersecurity and IT staffing are primary concerns. Those organizations that can address these challenges will gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.