Bridge panelist: Subra Sripada

As a part of our Bridge Panel series, Subra Sripada, Chief Transformation Officer, System Chief Information Officer, Beaumont Health offers his thoughts on the current state of healthcare IT education, as well as advice for students currently enrolled in academic programs and on the verge of entering the field. 

(Editor’s note: To hear audio excerpts of this interview, click on the media player buttons that run throughout this article.)

Mallory: Some members of both the academic and professional areas of healthcare IT see a disconnection between the attitudes, knowledge and skills being taught and the attitudes, knowledge and skills that are currently expected in the workplace.  It has even been said that some C-suite executives do not fully appreciate some of the latest ideas being brought to them by their newly hired employees.  Do you feel these opinions have any validity?

Subra Sripada, Chief Transformation Officer, System Chief Information Officer, Beaumont Health

Subra Sripada, Chief Transformation Officer, System Chief Information Officer, Beaumont Health

 Sripada: I thought you were going down the path of medical schools, as the example have they kept up, in terms of their curriculum, for the changing world?

Beaumont Health System has a medical school. Our dean created a curriculum for the future, and we believe it’s very different than what is traditionally found at most medicals schools. We feel most haven’t kept up on the paces, and kept up with the amount of change these young doctors face when they come out into the field. 

I do think, however, that some C-suite executives may not fully understand what new graduates can, and cannot, do. That can be problematic in terms of completing some of the executive’s most basic tasks, such as writing a thorough and accurate job description for any vacancies he or she may have within their staff. If jobs are being described by executives in one manner, but academics teach IT practices in fashions that incorporate new processes and strategies that C-suite do not recognize or appreciate, they’re can be a dangerous, as you say, disconnect that can negatively impact everyone.  As a CIO, you have to accept that this is a changing environment and we are in the early stages of the change. We have so much more to adapt and to learn that we must embrace that students can be equipped for tasks that we do not yet even think of today.

There is also some truth, I think, to value of the looking at the traditional job description when viewing new students, and determine if they possess the basic attributes and areas of study that will never go away from healthcare IT. Take IT security for example. There is a traditional job for that. There is also the constant, yet evolving, cyber-security threat to the mobile devices and the demand from physicians and consumers and others to make information accessible so that they can pull that information on any device. This practice, in turn, raises new levels of security concerns as well as the need for awareness to exist in the people meant to manage these functions. Some of these functions didn’t exist before and the job descriptions CIOs create today must show how their organization is aiming to keep up with those kinds of evolving needs.

Mallory: If you spoke with a group of students set for graduation, what specific issues would you advise them to consider most carefully as they as they leave their programs of study and enter the healthcare IT field?

Sripada: The first thing I would tell them is that IT as a service has not changed.

 Customer service is job one and that becomes more and more challenging with your customers being that much more informed. It was not too long ago when IT systems could be down for half a day and nobody would care. To now, if the system is down for five minutes, the CEO will call me because the technology has become so much of the heart of the operation at this point, which was never the case five years ago ten years ago. It is that much more integral and core to the operations. The urgency and the criticality of IT is front and center at this point, that is one.

Secondly, I would ask them to focus on value generation. There is a lot of money that gets put into the IT function. There is a constant demand for what has a function delivered to an organization from a governance perspective, from a leadership perspective, from a physician perspective, from a nursing perspective. So the CIO is challenged with making sure that the IT is going to be there in near real time, if not actual real time. 100 percent uptime, or near 100 percent uptime, is almost a given.

Finally, security is a big issue that the IT leaders of tomorrow have to be very cognizant of, and very nimble, generating value to the organizations. The more mature organizations are looking to IT as a strategy, as a strategic asset. What strategies, or set of strategies, do you present to these evolving issues? The new CIO’s, the emerging CIO’s, have to be pretty business savvy when putting together their strategic plans, and, finally, to they have to feel comfortable bringing their  ideas to the C-suite meeting rooms. If you are timid with great ideas, you might as well have no ideas at all. 

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