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3 Areas of Focus for a new Healthcare Chief Digital Officer [Feat. Jeff Sturman]
Posted by The HCI Group
on October 12, 2021 at 7:16 AM

Chief Digital Officer in Healthcare

Within just three years, the number of chief digital officers at healthcare organizations went from just 7 in 2017 to 33 in 2020, according to statistics that Hillary Ross, managing partner and practice leader for information technology at WittKieffer, shared in an HCI webinar on the evolution of the chief digital officer. “I definitely see this as a role that is gaining traction and that we will see more of,” Ross said.

Organizations are creating chief digital officer positions as patients push for digital experiences similar to those that they have come to expect as consumers, like those delivered by Amazon and Netflix. As healthcare innovators, chief digital officers are becoming essential in helping healthcare organizations create better digital experiences that attract and retain patients by meeting their expectations as consumers.So far, many of the chief digital officers hired by organizations have come from outside healthcare and positions other than chief information officer. But a chief digital officer position could increasingly become an option for healthcare technology executives, including chief information officers. 

The HCI Group’s Chief Digital Officer, Ed Marx, discussed the CIO to CDO transition in a webinar with Jeff Sturman, senior vice president and chief digital officer at Memorial Healthcare System, Florida. Sturman shared insights into the CDO’s emergence as a career choice as well as ways to successfully transition from CIO to CDO.

1.  Prioritize Patient Experience

“We need to think about digital in new ways of delivering care,” Sturman said. “Historically, we have built hospitals and we've been very successful in building hospitals to take care of our patients. But because of the movement to value-based care and population health, and through all the new tools and technology, we have to think about new ways to deliver care. Certainly, in the last year-and-a-half with COVID and with the huge movement towards telehealth and virtual health is one way that we've seen digital tools take off.”

Also, he said, “Change is hard for any organization and it's hard for healthcare in particular. We always want to do what's best for our patients at the end of the day but moving things forward and evolving and innovating is part of the mission of the chief digital officer.”

2.  Use Digital to Support the Healthcare System Strategy

“I talk a lot about the CDO relative to that consumer and patient experience and the focus of delivering care in new ways. I won't say that's not the role of the CIO because I think it just, again depends on the organization, but I do think through digital capabilities, digital strategy and putting a roadmap together around digital enablement. I am very intentional in saying that because everything we do from a digital standpoint should be done to support the healthcare system strategy,” Sturman said.

“And, by the way, for full disclosure, I play both roles today. So, I'm the CIO and I'm the chief digital officer. I do think over time that we will evolve,” Sturman said. “If I can focus on digital strategies and what are the tools and the technology to help influence our consumer experience, help us jump over those bricks-and-mortar locations, that'll become my focus. My focus on care delivery is where I would put it and not focused on lights, on technology, data center, cloud security, which are really, really important, but getting a good group of people underneath me to facilitate those technology initiatives would be paramount to my success.”

3.  Collaborate across the C-Suite

“Clearly, I own both of those roles (CIO & CDO) today but I think we need to evolve it and it probably depends on your organization about how much they can consume, how much change, how transformational they are. And in respect to should you have both roles? A lot of smaller organizations probably don't have the financial wherewithal to support both roles,” Sturman said.

“Though there is absolutely room for both roles in the industry, I do see them as distinct. I see them as working very collaboratively and synergistically together just like the CDO and the CIO need to work with the chief strategic officer or the chief transformation officer. And a lot of organizations have a chief innovation officer.

“Here at Memorial, we have a chief strategy officer and a chief transformation officer, and between the three of us, we're the three-legged stool that leaves the opportunity for growth and leaves the opportunity to think about change and evolution while our operators are focused on today and focused on taking care of patients in the here and now. That's not to say though that they're not focused on strategy and the movement of where healthcare is going, because we all need to be focused on value-based care.”

“Part of the beauty of digital and part of the beauty of what we can bring to the table is we can take the friction out of healthcare. We can make healthcare easier, and there's not a more complex job. Whatever we can do to create ways in which we can engage and put more tools and capability so that we can borrow lessons learned from other industries and steal those ideas and bring them to healthcare, just to make the process easier. I think that's what we should all be focused on.”

Bonus: Getting Started as Chief Digital Officer

Sturman listed three things that he has done differently after assuming the CDO title. The first was focusing on innovation. “We’re taking the playbook from places like HIMSS and CHIME and all these other organizations where you have an area that you can test, trial and showcase these innovative solutions.

“The second thing is this combination of strategy, operations and technology. So, this is a journey and there's going to be a long journey to get there. And the role of the CDO and what we're doing to differentiate ourselves is really understanding all three legs of that stool, operations, strategy and technology. So, we're looking to create this consistent consumer experience.

And then the third thing is call centers. In the last year, we’ve had a real emphasis and focus on how we engage our consumers from the first interaction that they have with us. One of the journeys we're on here is to create this omni-channel capability of engaging our consumers and our patients, not just through voice and phone, but through text and chat and self-service capabilities.

“It's all of those areas of focus that help us to move the needle.”

“If someone wants to be a chief digital officer, or for that matter, a chief information officer, it comes down to relationships. There are great organizations with healthcare leaders and so many other avenues to learn. You can never stop learning but you can never not create a better and bigger network either. So, count on those relationships, whether they be in healthcare or out of the industry. There's a lot to be learned from other industries here. And, I'll just harp on this all-day long, it's relationships that make the difference.”

Click here to watch the recording of the webinar with Jeff Sturman and hear more about the CIO to CDO Transition and How to Ensure Success.