Beyond the data
Inaugural roster of the Top 25 Clinical Informaticists highlights the rising profile and influence of these healthcare professionals
Once thought of as an advisory post best-suited for “techie” physicians, the role of clinical informaticist is quickly evolving into one that involves high-level decisionmaking and careful consideration of clinical culture and workflow.
And within the context of new federal programs that incentivize health informationtechnology adoption and use of clinical information for quality improvement, clinical informaticists are growing fast in both prominence and prevalence.
“This used to be the role for a geek doctor, but recently there’s been much more of an understanding that these positions require expertise in change management and leadership,” says Christopher Longhurst, chief medical information officer at 272-bed Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif. “And the introduction of HITECH and meaningful use have also elevated the role of CMIO because health IT is now a source of revenue.” HITECH refers to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which is part of the stimulus law enacted in 2009.
Longhurst spearheaded Lucile Packard’s implementation of a computerized physicianorder entry system and, earlier this year, he coauthored a study in the journal Pediatrics that demonstrated the first-ever association between CPOE implementation and a subsequent reduction in mortality.
Those achievements earned Longhurst a spot on Modern Healthcare’s inaugural list of Top 25 Clinical Informaticists, a list that recognizes healthcare professionals who have successfully used clinical data to improve performance while serving as a critical bridge between IT staff and clinicians.
Indeed, the provisions of HITECH have cemented clinical informatics as an essential component of a healthcare organization’s overall strategic planning, says Khiet Trinh, associate vice president for medical affairs and the first- ever CMIO for 138-bed Ephrata (Pa.) Community Hospital, another of this year’s Top 25 Clinical Informaticists.
“We’re gaining respect as full-fledged hospital executives, and I think most hospitals are beginning to see CMIOs as vitally important,” says Trinh, who led Ephrata Community’s adoption of an electronic health record. “It’s not about loving computers. It’s about sharing the vision of improving patient care.”
And as the duties of clinical informaticists have changed, the people who hold those roles have been able to undertake evermore challenging projects. At 13-hospital Texas Health Resources, for instance, Ferdinand Velasco, vice president and CMIO, has led the system through a $200 million EHR implementation. Velasco is another honoree among the Top 25.
That’s a far cry from a decade ago, says Velasco, when CMIOs mostly sat on physician steering committees and advised the hospital’s chief information officer. “It’s a much more proactive role now, and one that is necessary as we prepare for new models of care delivery.”
Not only have recent policy changes made clinical informatics more relevant to administra-
tors, they’ve also made clinical practice more appealing to informaticists.
Richard Snow, medical director of performance improvement at 191-bed Doctors Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, stopped practicing family medicine in 2005 so he would have enough time to devote to clinical informatics projects.
But recent trends—such as the growth of patient-centered medical homes and new ways of managing chronic diseases—have convinced Snow, who also made this year’s list, that now is the right time to return to direct patient care.
“Several factors conspired to make primary care more interesting, and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Snow, who says he will see patients part-time. He also plans to work with a familypractice clinic to develop teaching tools that use health IT. “To me, clinical informatics is like a candy store. There is so much opportunity as we reshape the way we provide care and the way we pay for it.”
This year’s honorees say their clinical back-