Three Insights from Dr. John Halamka on the Healthcare CIO’s Evolving Role

Brian Mullins
Feb 22, 2013

We were fortunate to have Dr. John Halamka as a keynote speaker at our recent company kickoff meeting.  Dr. Halamka is a renaissance man, teaching at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network (NEHEN), co-Chair of the national HIT Standards Committee, co-Chair of the Massachusetts HIT Advisory Committee and a practicing Emergency Physician.  Dr. Halamka is also the CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and it’s in this capacity as healthcare CIO that he spoke to us about where he sees healthcare IT going.

Dr. Halamka had more insights that I can count on two hands, so I’m going to refer to just three of his thoughts that relate to our wheelhouse: the tension in healthcare IT between enabling clinician access to patient information for better care and IT’s dueling responsibility of protecting that information from security breaches.

Insight #1: Healthcare IT is going to get even more demanding

“The next five years are going to be some of the hardest for IT professionals in healthcare,” says Dr. Halamka.  There are a lot of regulations around the privacy and security of patient data that could get enforced when data breeches occur.  And, they will occur as more electronic hospital records (EHRs) are shared via healthcare information exchanges.  “As CIOs, we have almost no authority, but unbelievable accountability.”

Insight #2: Aggregated patient data can help turn “data into wisdom” – but it could also increases IT risks

IT departments need to work with clinicians so that technology solutions help “turn data into wisdom.”  This can be done when data from one patient visit is aggregated with other data and viewed at a population level.  But, when data is aggregated with other data, there is the potential for risk – risk of  hacking, risk of  disclosure, and risk of enforcement by a governmental agency for noncompliance.

Insight #3: CIOs should plan and budget now for increasing security challenges

CPOE, ePrescribing and HIEs offer tremendous opportunity for greater accuracy and better patient care, but the electronic transfer of patient information can present big security challenges.  In anticipation of these challenges Dr. Halamka has allocated one third of his IT budget over the next year for security and compliance projects.  A vast array of security and compliance improvements are priority projects in his 2013 IT plan.

These are just three of the insights from his fascinating presentation. If you’re interested in getting more of them, I highly recommend his Life as a Healthcare CIO blog.