HIMSS: CIO and CMIO--can this relationship work?

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ATLANTA--Finding the right match of a CIO and CMIO is a lot like a marriage--the less that's left to chance, the better. As a result, communication is the cornerstone, but a good CIO-CMIO fit also depends on how well the prospective CMIO can get along with the rest of the "family," namely the physicians and others in the system.

At a HIMSS10 Senior Executive Synergy session two CIO-CMIO duos talked about what they did to make sure the relationship works.

All four panelists--Timothy Thompson, CIO, and James Altomare, MD, CMIO at The Methodist Hospital System; and Pamela Arora, CIO and Christopher Menzies, MD, CMIO at Children's Medical Center Dallas--said clear expectations were important.

Although Children's Medical Center was in the middle of several major IT projects and under pressure to find a new CMIO as fast as possible, Arora sought input from her hospital leadership to define the CMIO role and reporting structure. "It was important to get the CMIO role filled, but we needed a long-term fix," she said.

However, for Thompson, the CMIO's job description was less important than Altomare's ability to fit into the staff and culture at Methodist Health. With CPOE, the opening of a new hospital and the optimization of Eclipsys' products for nursing records, "Jim came in and was thrown into the fire," said Thompson. "We're still figuring out the job description."

Meet the Physicians
Both Menzies and Altomare endured many meetings with the physicians in the Methodist and Children's systems. "That was a eye opener," said Altomare. "Tim had a vision of where he wanted our [health IT] to go ... and these guys wanted to do it."

"The introductions were the most important part of the process," said Menzies. "With Pam's help, I was able to make the right relationships with physicians," which was a "make-or-break" issue for the CMIO position. "Coming in as an outsider has advantages," including a lack of political baggage, he said.

Both CMIOs said they had to learn to trust the relationship with their CIOs--possibly because of physicians' tendency to try to fix things themselves, said Altomare.

"We try to spend time in each other's worlds as much as possible" to keep the lines of communication open, Menzies said.