It’s Not The Health IT You Choose, But The Way You Talk About It

Posted on December 13, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

With system upgrades taking shape across the country, IT is no longer just another another department in the hospital. More than ever, it’s integral to how healthcare organizations work and get paid.

But you don’t always see this shifting landscape reflected in hospitals’ leadership structures or practices.

That’s unfortunate. Getting the most out of  the billions being spent on health IT will require clear vision and skillful communication at the top levels, according to a December article in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association.

Doctors, nurses and other team members “must understand the nature of the changes—what the result of the changes will be, how their roles and work will be different, and why change is important,” author Tiankai Wang wrote.

Thoughtful language can go a long way toward minimizing staff resistance and making an implementation successful, explained Wang, a professor of health information management at Texas State University.

Leaders should practice “framing” by promoting the benefits of the technology, such as improved outcomes, lower costs and greater efficiency, Wang wrote. They should also use “rhetorical crafting” by using stories, analogies and other devices to make their message resonate.

Rhetorical crafting, according to Wang, “leverages a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to frame leaders’ message in a form that will connect more easily with staff and help them to embrace the possibilities of the coming change.”

He also advises using words such as “we” and “should” rather than “you” and “must” when talking about IT changes.

At a more fundamental level, though, IT leadership isn’t always valued in healthcare to the extent that other roles are. In 2013, average total cash compensation for chief information officers was eighth-highest of all hospital titles at about $316,000, Modern Healthcare reported.

And despite the growing importance of health IT, it’s also uncommon for hospital CIOs to be promoted to the roles of chief operating officer, president or CEO.

It does happen, though, as David Raths wrote in Healthcare Informatics. In perhaps the best known example, Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, which operates several hospitals, earlier this year named Yousuf Ahmad, who had previously served as CIO, to the chief executive role. Ahmad had also held other management roles, including president of the system’s physician group.

It’s likely a sign of the front-and-center role that IT is now taking at healthcare organizations everywhere.