How Today’s Hospital CIO Can Lead Patient Engagement

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no shortage of conversation about how the world has changed. Many people are still working from home, mask mandates and vaccines continue to be debated, and the way healthcare is delivered has dramatically shifted, perhaps permanently. After seeing what was possible — virtual visits, curbside prescription orders, and a more patient-centric approach to care — patients are not likely to jump at the chance to have things in this area return to “normal.” As the pandemic changed the expectations of healthcare consumers, so too has it changed the role of the hospital CIO.

In March 2020, many pieces of the healthcare system were put to the test. In just a few short weeks, technology that could facilitate telehealth and virtual health visits became a critical piece of any health system’s plans. These new and quickly evolving technology needs placed CIOs right in the middle of the action, as the long anticipated digital transformation of healthcare became very real. 

Today’s healthcare consumers expect more

As hospitals, health systems, and health plans all clamored to quickly meet the needs of patients, it was the CIO who was tasked with figuring out how to meet the moment — from device and equipment needs to privacy concerns to interoperability challenges. But without the luxury of time to think through how these various pieces of technology would work together, the result for many patients was fragmented in-person care, siloed virtual care, and a patient journey that feels even more disjointed than ever because patients have more and more options to navigate.

When patients are frustrated or confused about how to use digital engagement tools, the entire care experience suffers. We know that engaged patients are better patients. They are more involved in the decision-making process and more likely to follow instructions or adhere to care plans. We also know that healthcare consumer expectations are changing

With healthcare consumerism becoming a driving force in hospital and health system strategy, the changes to the system ushered in by COVID-19 have left an indelible mark on the way healthcare technology is considered and implemented. 

According to the ninth annual Health IT Industry Outlook Survey conducted by health IT consulting firm Stoltenberg Consulting Inc., “post-COVID-19 consumers expect care experiences to be highly coordinated and highly digital, with tools for managing their health and health information. Health systems that fail to deliver on the digital experience could struggle to attract new consumers following the pandemic.”  

The pandemic has also had a budgetary impact on many facilities. According to an online survey of CHIME members conducted in August 2021 by Get Well, 25% say budgets were decreased because of COVID-19. 

Although it can often feel like a battle for IT leaders to get the resources they need to meet the demands placed upon them, this is also a time for great innovation — especially when it comes to digital patient engagement. Hospitals, health systems, and health plans are all seeking opportunities to expand their reach and improve the patient experience. From simple SMS texting, which reaches the largest number of people, to care plan compliance, which can help bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient care, to the full smart patient experience featuring fully integrated digital technology and smart devices, technology has a critical role to play, as does the CIO.

The evolving role of healthcare IT and the hospital CIO

Healthcare technology is certainly enjoying some time in the spotlight as the industry adjusts to new expectations and pressures brought on by changing consumer behavior. However, the evolving role of the CIO is not a new phenomenon. While the pandemic may have forced many organizations to offer digital engagement opportunities that they hadn’t previously, technology had been evolving at a “breakneck speed, creating some of the most challenging — and potentially rewarding — conditions CIOs have ever experienced” years before COVID-19.

Once a siloed leader largely responsible for data management and electronic health record (EHR) implementation, now the hospital CIO is often considered part of the executive team, responsible for everything from data storage and management to cybersecurity. In many healthcare facilities, CIOs are also being called upon to help manage revenue cycle platforms, telehealth initiatives, and the overall digital strategy for the organization. 

Technology today is a business imperative, often driving business operations — something particularly true when it comes to consumer engagement and experience. As healthcare organizations increasingly realize the importance of improving consumer engagement, CIOs will hold a progressively important role in maximizing the digital experience. 

The bottom line

As healthcare organizations address the new reality of healthcare delivery, which necessarily focuses on virtual and digital care, adoption of solutions aimed at supporting patients with a consolidated, seamless experience is how leaders will stand apart from the competition. And the CIO is at the heart of that strategy.

Healthcare CIOs today need to be more than just involved in the implementation of patient engagement tools or initiatives. CIOs must stay on top of new developments in patient engagement technology and actively bring new and innovative ideas to leadership.

One challenge — and opportunity — for a CIO in a healthcare organization is to understand the different types of patients and what their technology needs are. Are they looking for apps that engage them before, during, and after a hospital stay? With different patient needs, patient engagement tools are varied, and different tools are most appropriate for different modalities. Organizations will be looking to the CIO to help make the best choices based on their patient population’s needs. 

Read our white paper to learn more about how CIOs and other health tech leaders can lead strategic patient engagement.