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CMS creates chief health informatics officer position

The newly created chief health informatics officer position for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will focus on developing a health IT strategy for CMS.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services created a chief health informatics officer position geared toward...

driving health IT strategy development and technology innovation for the department.

According to the job description, the chief health informatics officer (CHIO) will be charged with developing "requirements and content for health-related information technology, with an initial focus on improving innovation and interoperability."

The chief health informatics officer position will develop a health IT and information strategy for CMS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as provide subject-matter expertise for health IT information management and technology innovation policy.

Applying health informatics to IT

The position also entails working with providers and vendors to determine how CMS will apply health informatics methods to IT, as well as acting as a liaison between CMS and private industry to lead innovation, according to the job description.

A candidate must have at least one year of "qualifying specialized experience," including experience using health informatics data to examine, analyze and develop policy and program operations in healthcare programs; offering guidance on program planning to senior management for an organization; and supervising subordinate staff.

Pamela Dixon, co-founder and managing partner of healthcare executive search firm SSi-SEARCH, based in Atlanta, said a chief health informatics officer must have all the skill sets of a chief medical information officer and more. Dixon said a CHIO must be a strategic systems thinker, with the ability to innovate, a strong communicator and a "true leader."

"The role could and should unlock the key to moving technology initiatives through healthcare dramatically faster, dramatically more effective," Dixon said.

New CHIO job will help patients access data, says CMS head

The new chief health informatics officer that CMS will hire can expect to be knee-deep in health IT issues familiar to hospital CIOs and tech-savvy clinicians.

"The truth is, as the largest healthcare payer in the country, CMS should have had a CHIO function long ago," CMS administrator Seema Verma blogged on July 19. "Despite today’s amazing technology and decades of promises, we are not where we should be."

Verma anticipated that the agency's new CHIO will help CMS move forward with policies to give patients more access to the health data; allow more information-sharing across the healthcare industry; and promote API strategies that connect data to medical researchers and software developers.

"Patients should expect health IT that enhances their care coordination instead of disrupting it," she wrote.

Finding the right balance

The role could and should unlock the key to moving technology initiatives through healthcare dramatically faster, dramatically more effective.
Pamela Dixonco-founder and managing partner, SSi-SEARCH

Eric Poon, who has served as Duke University Health System's chief health information officer for the last three and a half years, said a successful informatics professional enables individuals within an organization to achieve quality improvement and patient safety goals with technology. Poon oversees clinical systems and analytics teams and ensures data that's been gathered can be used to support quality initiatives and research.

One of the most significant challenges Poon said he faces is determining how to balance resources between the day-to-day and "what's new," along with making data accessible in a "high-quality way," so faculty and researchers can easily access the data to support their work in quality improvement and clinical research. Being successful means creating a bridge between technology and individuals within the organization, Poon said.

"I would like them to say that we are making it possible for them to push the envelope with regards to data science and research and data exchange," Poon said. "I also like to think we will have innovators who are coming up with new apps, new data science, machine learning algorithms that are realigning how we engage patients and how we are really becoming smart about how to use IT to move the needle in quality and safety ... and patient health in a cost-effective way."

Emerging roles important for change

Dixon said new and emerging leadership roles are important because they make organizations think about both what they need or want the individual to accomplish, as well as what the organization itself could accomplish with the right person.

"The actual title is less important," she said. "There are CHIOs that might just as easily carry the title chief innovation officer or chief transformation officer or chief data officer, depending on their focus. The important thing is that we encourage and foster growth, value and innovation by creating roles that are aimed at doing just that."

The creation of a chief health informatics officer position and the push to focus on health IT within CMS is part of a larger initiative started earlier this year after the Donald Trump administration announced MyHealthEData, which allows patients to take control of their healthcare data and allows CMS to follow them on their healthcare journey.

Johnathan Monroe, director of the CMS media relations group, said the organization will be accepting applications for the chief health informatics officer position until July 20.

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