Q&A: Executive search pro shares impact of IT on healthcare staffing

Analytics, data security concerns, retailization and patient empowerment are just some of the issues having a big impact on healthcare. These changes require changes in the way providers find and hire the right people to manage.

Jim Utterback, principal with executive search firm Witt/Kieffer and leader of the firm’s IT practice, has identified the game-changing trends that will define health IT in the coming year and spoke with Clinical Innovation + Technology about them.

Q: How is the changing healthcare landscape impacting the C-suite?

A: There’s been a huge change in all the leadership positions. More and more, large systems are establishing a chief data officer or data analytics officer position. Qualifications for leadership roles are really different than they were five years ago. The change from volume to value means hospital CEOs want a business partner who is able to talk about strategy, planning and budgeting and hold their own at the board level with communication and presentation skills. They’re being asked to do an extreme amount of work. With regulations changing, interoperability, consumerization, retailization—there’s a lot of moving pieces on technology executives’ to-do lists right now.

Q: How is the industry meeting the demand for these new skills?

A: There hasn’t been a great school of development. What we see is the best of the best stepping up and people’s willingness to take a look at technologists from other areas to be considered for some of these senior roles. The marketplace is changing dramatically in terms of requirements and expectations. It used to be the MIS director in the bowels of the hospital. More and more they are reporting to CEOs.

Healthcare organizations need to be doing a better job of succession planning and developing talent to succeed and compete in this new job market. We need to get more talent into the pipeline for us to do a better job in healthcare. We’re seeing master’s degrees required now.                                                                       

While experience with LANs and WANs is transferrable, healthcare has a whole group of regulations unlike any other industry. The vocabulary is a lot different so there’s a learning curve to it. People can get that over time but healthcare has been an inbred vertical for so long.

Q: What can healthcare learn from other industries about data privacy and security?

A: In healthcare we’re beginning to crack that door open more and more. The two weakest industries with high vulnerability are healthcare and higher education because they haven’t been prepared. Banking and finance have been dealing with cyberthreats for 20 years. Those industries are highly standardized. The lack of standardization in healthcare makes interoperability and finding incoming threats that much tougher. When you combine that with bringing your own device and the internet of things, providers are downloading information and walking out the door with it. It’s a challenging marketplace. There are lots of opportunities for the most qualified but for those that haven’t stepped it up in the mid-part of their career, they’re up against competition they’ve never seen before from outside healthcare.

Q: What do you see as the top priorities for healthcare executives?

A: Data analytics is becoming more and more of a top focus. The last five years of development, driven by the Affordable Care Act, has been more about putting the EMR system together, populating it with data and convincing everyone it will add value. Meaningful Use has been a period of implementation. Now we’ve got it and what are you going to do with it? This is the optimization part that drives you to use the data you’re collecting. It changes clinical protocols and outcomes. We’re seeing the appointment of chief data analytics officers. A lot of statisticians and analysts are being added to ranks. We’re trying to take all this data—which is challenging because often it’s not in a standard dataset—and figure out how to make it actionable.

Most providers are just getting through the exhaustion at the tail end of implementation. But they are thinking about the outcomes if done right—stratification of patients, better and more defined utilization, patient level insight, care management programs. People are realizing data has value. The more progressive CIOs out there are figuring out how to commercialize this dataset that has been created. Some are partnering with pharma companies to turn data into an income stream. There are folks at the bleeding edge and the rest of the organizations will catch up over time. It takes much longer than you’d think to go from idea to practice. I’d say about 5 percent of the group are already there and the large majority are fast followers.

Digitization is growing in the form of mobile health and wearables. Apple announced its effort with Duke for autism, Google’s wearable contact lenses can measure blood alcohol level and glucose. These are tremendous advances. It’s more what’s outside your walls than what’s inside your walls. The market is changing and competitors are changing. Wearables are gaining momentum. The statistics alone show almost $3.5 billion invested in health IT companies. There are a lot of people who believe this is a huge opportunity. There are big companies like Walgreens but also a lot of startups with smart folks who can act quickly to provide solutions where there are none.

Mergers and acquisitions will continue to happen. Hospitals are going bankrupt. We read about one or two a week. So, the healthy ones to have to get bigger. Like every other industry out here, they’re scaling to have the ability to negotiate against some of these payers who are also consolidating. As you get bigger, the problems, outcomes, risk of breaches, privacy issues also get bigger. The cost of that does as well.

Q: How do you think patient engagement might change in the next year?

A: The patient empowerment movement really started when people started googling illnesses. We’ve come a long way. Ultimately, people have started to realize that their social environment—what they do, their community from an environmental perspective—has a huge impact in terms of their health. Payers are pushing back on the patient and people are starting to get it, track it, change their diet and alcohol intake and exercise more. People are getting reminders of what medications to take and when. How much exercise you need is coming through apps on iPhones. Early adopters tend to be healthy and well than sick and old but we’re starting to see that technology infusion at every age group and in very different settings. I think it will take traction over time.

The big headline to me is that patients will do more about their own health. They’ll even do diagnostics on themselves. It started with glucose monitors. Highly educated people will come to their doctors with opinions on how they should be treated. Technology is emerging. It’s unstoppable. Health IT is at the center of the ecosystem right now. There’s a great opportunity for developing and growing talent. We need to fuel the pipeline much more than we do today to develop diversity and talented executives but also young up-and-comers for what the new world will require. If you stand back and look at your boss today who has been in the job for maybe 15 years—you will need a different toolset to accomplish that same job in the next 10 years.

Editor's Note: Learn more about Utterback's practice.