Connecticut Children’s Medical Center: Mr. Kelly R. Styles, Vice President of Information Services and Chief Information Officer

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When Kelly R. Styles considers how his role as vice president of information services and chief information officer has evolved at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Conn., over the last three years, he reaches one conclusion.

“My understanding of my role is that I am not a technologist,” he says.

He reaches this conclusion despite the fact that Styles’ background for 25 years has been in technology. During his career, however, he has seen healthcare IT expand to the point where he, as CIO, is now a treasured part of the executive staff, a member of the team devising healthcare strategy and initiatives. He is the member who provides the data and information needed for long-term planning and decision-making.

No longer does he handle the day-to-day issues of choosing which vendors and software the hospital will be using. His director-level staff is now held responsible for those decisions.

“My job is to now ask the question, ‘What should we be doing around our strategy?’” he explained.

For example, Connecticut Children’s is now looking at growth and community-health strategies. Styles spends a great deal of his time considering how IT will plug into those strategies.

In short, Styles stated, “I’m not solely responsible for technology anymore.”

The evolution of Healthcare IT

This transformation of his role at the medical center, Styles said, started taking place about three years ago, but has really crystalized in the last two years. Now, his main challenge is making sure that he is current with the thinking of the executive suite as they ponder such issues as whether or not the hospital should participate in ACOs.

“It’s the educational piece around the different policies that are coming out of Washington that I need to be clearly connected to,” he explained. “So even the things that have to do with President Obama’s healthcare plan, I have to be versed on that.”

He added, “CIOs can’t be about just tech anymore. They have to be about policymaking both at an organizational level and at the state level and at the national level.”

A large portion of his information-gathering right now is devoted to health-information exchanges and answering the question, How is Connecticut Children’s going to share data with community physicians? Styles regularly meets with local physicians to discuss this very question and to jointly develop a plan for information-sharing.

“There is this consolidation going on in healthcare, so I think again as you’re in the executive suite, you have to understand what that means to your organization and how your organization is going to react to that. Are you going to figure out some partnerships? And if you are, what does that mean for information-sharing in the areas of financial, clinical, and research?”

In addition to information-sharing, Styles focuses on managing relationships with consultants and other partners who provide services, such as radiology, that the hospital is unable to provide itself.

“Managing those relationships from an IT standpoint is really important, because they, too, have their own agendas, and you have to make sure that everyone finds some way to compromise and move both agendas forward, and at some point they both have to match,” he observed.

Listening to the end users

Styles also makes a point to listen to those who actually have to use the technology that IT is instituting. He said that many of Connecticut Children’s nurses and physicians actively participate in the organization’s technological advancements. In fact, he is exploring mobile technology largely because so many physicians were sending him articles on how to make it functional in their environment.

“It is the creative ideas that are coming from the staff itself and it is us being able to visualize how to implement those ideas,” he said.

It is important, Styles asserted, that the end users feel ownership of the process. If the latest innovation is not an organizational initiative, it becomes solely an IT initiative and not a clinical idea.

“It can’t be IT driving innovation. We have to be participants in that. Otherwise that message of ‘it’s just IT’ will remain the same.”

The last days of the Healthcare CIO

In the three years that Styles has been at Connecticut Children’s, he has helped grow the department from 13 to 104 people, all of whom support the medical center. He has also presided over the development of a data center and a disaster-recovery center for the organization.

Still, he believes that the biggest change for not just Connecticut Children’s IT department, but IT departments nationwide is still ahead, for he believes that individuals like himself—CIOs—are going to become as extinct as the dinosaurs in the next 10 years.

“The position is evolving where CMIOs are truly going to take on a greater role and become the eventual leaders of IT, especially if they can get the business background, because it is clinical informatics (healthcare’s business intelligence) that is changing our space,” he predicted.

In other words, the pure technologist that is the IT person will no longer exist.

“Medical professionals will truly have to understand the business as a whole, so you will find more nurses, more doctors in the CIO chair.”

His advice to all IT personnel, including doctors and nurses, is to look at the big picture, to understand the entirety of what is happening.

Doctors and nurses, he said, need to go back and get their MBAs. They grasp clinical need, but many need the added component of business acumen. IT professionals, on the other hand, need to realize that the current state of healthcare IT is about more than just hardware, software, and applications.

“It’s the processes,” he said. “You have to have a handle on them.  Understand what the healthcare processes are and how you will help the organization make changes as necessary.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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