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How health IT can keep hospital leaders in the loop

October 27th, 2010

By Linda Sinisi

Linda SinisiIf the proverbial key to success in real estate is location, location, location, in the IT world it's communication, communication, communication. Yet one common complaint across industries is that IT staff aren't responsive or don't communicate enough or in a language that "normal" people can understand.

Keeping leaders in the loop has been of paramount importance for me.

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Within my first two months I created a communication process to inform our senior leaders and medical department heads about IT problems and how we were trying to solve them. For example, if we have to temporarily take a system out of service, I personally inform our executive team immediately.

As updates become available I give the executives and affected department directors updates. Once the problem has been resolved I follow up to ensure that we understand its cause and work with the affected individuals to prevent it from recurring. I then give this information, as appropriate, to the executive team.

Regularly talking with executives and department heads is the best way to learn what is important to them. Actively listen, as well as acknowledge that you understand what you heard. Take and follow suggestions and insights that they offer you. Don't assume you know everything!

Without good communication with executives, you will not earn their respect and support. Nor will you be viewed as a valued member of the executive team. Here are some other communications strategies that I have found effective:

o Ensure that everything important to your clients has follow up and follow through. Although I delegate responsibility to my staff for follow through in most cases, I keep a file of all physician requests and issue escalations that I review monthly to verify that the problem has been solved. And our Help Desk conducts random surveys to measure satisfaction levels. For high level requests for assistance, for example, clinical department chairs, I always contact them directly to ensure that they are satisfied with our response.

o Ask questions so you really understand how and why things work the way they do.

o Offer ideas and suggestions in the form of a question so you can get feedback to determine if your ideas fit.

o In most organizations, the management team meets regularly. Offer to be a presenter at these sessions to report on accomplishments and new developments.

o Meet regularly with your superiors and direct reports. Prepare an agenda and send it prior to meeting. Include recent accomplishments and upcoming projects. Always be sure to sincerely thank them for their support, ideas, suggestions, and concerns.

o Provide monthly status reports in the form of a comprehensive dashboard to the CEO, COO, CFO, and where appropriate, chief medical and nursing officers.

It is normal for human beings to make assumptions, positive or negative, when they lack information. The lion's share of IT work can be managed as individual projects. A brief status update in plain English, with green, red and yellow coding to indicate projects are going well, are not going well or they are in jeopardy, helps executives get to the heart of the matter when they are not familiar with the nitty gritty details. The status update makes it easy for you as a CIO to either put issues to bed or put them out there for further conversation.

As part of my initial communications sessions, I asked each of these individuals what information they wanted in the dashboard.

In short, communicate, communicate, communicate!

Editor's note: Linda Sinisi is CIO of Pennsylvania Hospital, a 519-bed acute care facility in Philadelphia, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. A major teaching and clinical research institution today, when it was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1751, Pennsylvania Hospital became the nation's first hospital.

Related commentary:
Advice for a new hospital CIO

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