The Practice CIO: Driving Business Innovation

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CIOs are playing a key role in moving the clinical and business operations of the radiology practice into the 21st century

A funny thing happened on the way to PACS: As large radiology practices adopted the software and technology to create distributed reading solutions for multiple clients, they found themselves contending with a growing number of issues concerning servers, software, and networks. Initially, these practices hired an IT person, whose duties became increasingly complex as IT solutions were applied to an expanding array of clinical, business, and operational problems. When chief executives and shareholders recognized that IT touched every aspect of their practices, some of them made a place in the executive suite for a CIO.

Radiology Business Journal gathered the CIOs of four of the country’s leading radiology and outpatient imaging practices for an electronic roundtable discussion focused on their executive roles in their respective practices. Their experiences illuminate the transformative impact that IT is having on the modern delivery of radiology services.

RBJ: What are you working on now?

Whitfill: Today, my key responsibilities include ensuring that the overall information-services operations of our practice are running well and that we use technology in a manner that supports our practice’s primary mission: to be nationally recognized leaders in medical imaging. Within that, I ensure that all people and departments have the correct tools for using technology to advance their goals. As a physician, I also serve as a trusted conduit between physicians and information services—someone who can understand both sides of the information-services equation.

Data analysis and workflow analysis are essential to the optimal use of our technology for strategic and operational excellence. Today, our department has five times the staff and 20 times the number of pieces of equipment and software tools as when I started. I used to be able to be an expert in every part of the department, but today, I rely on my team leaders to be those experts; I ensure they have the support to excel in what they do. Today, I am more of a conduit between all of these pieces than an expert in some. That also means I have to filter through a huge amount of information and work across a more complex organization to ensure that we are all aligned on the same goals.

Thomas: My staff and I are working on a number of different projects: We are expanding our storage area network infrastructure; moving ahead with our virtual-infrastructure direction by beginning to migrate a number of production servers to virtual servers; rolling out server-based computing and thin clients to our remote users (and in future phases, we hope, slowly migrating our entire environment to thin clients); redoing our Border Gateway Protocol routes; and implementing an email archival appliance. My immediate staff and I also are training to become Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundation certified.

Mitchell: As usual, there are many items on my plate. Right now, I am working on implementing voice recognition for radiologists in our systems. I am also assessing the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) on our practice. In addition, I am on the North Carolina Health Information Exchange Council, helping to define the health information exchange (HIE) structure within North Carolina.

Whelan: My focus is on fulfilling our e-business strategy and moving nearly every transaction online.

RBJ: What are your key responsibilities? How have they changed since you joined the practice?

Whelan: Key areas of responsibility include telecommunications, network engineering, data-center management, PC/help-desk operations, and applications development. In addition to these operational responsibilities, I am spending more and more time on developing strategies that differentiate our services and product from those of our competitors. These include the debut of a multimedia radiology report; online CME for referring physicians within our referring-physician portal; and Pre-cert Tracker, an online tool for referring offices to use in managing exams requiring preauthorization. We also have a number of initiatives that will transition our IT team from a cost center to a revenue-generating business.

Thomas: My key responsibilities are to act as a liaison between the business units and the IT department; implement business