A hospital is not a yacht. It is a cruise ship

Being the head of hospital IT is not about working quietly on details that no one else is bothered about any more. These days, a hospital CIO is in the centre of a perfect storm, which is great on the one hand. Never before has the job been so diverse. But it can also distract from the path ahead. Sometimes, innovative ideas have to grow.

By
Uta
Knöchel

Digitisation and innovation are everywhere in modern healthcare. And they are, of course, everywhere in a hospital these days. But does that automatically mean that the hospital IT department should shoulder IT projects as uncountable numbers? Do we really have to select IT solutions instantly, and run implementation phases overnight? Hackathons show us the way, with their culture of developing IT tools – early prototypes, to be precise – in the blink of an eye. Should hospital IT act like start-ups do? Let’s just do it all! Is this the new job description for hospital CIOs?

I received a mail this week. We were asked – or ordered – to go live with a new process within two weeks. Without testing, without knowing the conditions or the data safety rules, without technical details, nothing but the title. Is this what users and CEOs expect from their IT colleagues? Is this our new role?

I heard something very interesting in a presentation from Steven Johnson recently. He is a bestselling author, a person who is known from TV, a journalist, and he is engaged in start-ups too. In his books, he writes about innovation cycles, and about topics like ‘How we got to now: Lessons from history’s unsung innovators.’

In his presentation, Johnson looked for patterns around epochal innovations, innovations that change our world. In order to learn from these, he identified five relevant patterns:

  • The slow hunch: Innovations need time. Super innovations often start slow.
  • The blind spot: intelligent people with great ideas can overlook important details relevant for the mass distribution. That is why constructive communication is so important to avoid impasses.
  • The liquid network: an inspiring atmosphere, like the one in a coffee house, is important for a genius mind.
  • Diversity: it’s important to target diversity to become a true innovator.
  • Big collaboration and big data: asking the right questions can help to identify patterns – and also unintended side-effects.

One slogan of Johnson’s has impressed me the most: ‘Chance favours the connected mind.’ I am a mathematician by training, specialised in numerical mathematics. So digitisation has been with me each second of my work. I truly believe that computers and IT have developed exponentially over the last few decades. But every single step has needed time, and digitisation is still a work in progress. Training is a big issue, in particular when big organisations are involved, like a university hospital. Ideas have to grow, be strong and be fit for a roll-out.

‘We have to employ transparent communication to keep all stakeholders in the loop. It is important to be sustainable.’

This is what being a CIO is about these days, in my humble opinion. We have to find the right way in a murky landscape. We have to prioritise, on a reliable cost base, to support the key processes, the key issues. And we have to employ transparent communication to keep all stakeholders in the loop. It is important to be sustainable. A hospital is not a yacht that can move quickly from one bay to another and change direction every couple of minutes. It is a magnificent, stately ship, a cruise ship or a tanker. It can travel quickly yes, but only if navigated properly.

View Insights 6.1 eBook - A hospital is not a yacht. It is a cruise ship

Uta Knöchel

CIO, University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

is a mathematician, who spent ten years as Head of the IT department of the University Medical Centre in Greifswald, Germany. Since 2013, she has been the CIO of the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein. In 2015 she was named in the top ten CIOs in the D-A-CH region by CIO magazine.

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