ORLANDO, Fla. — When Rady Children’s Hospital CIO Albert Oriol took the podium during a session on IT and strategy at the CHIME Fall Forum, he began his presentation in Spanish.

“That’s how we’ve been engaging with our fellow executives and our boards for years,” he said.

Although funny, Oriol’s metaphor underpinned a growing sentiment among the health IT community: The alignment of IT within an organization’s strategic plan is long overdue. In other words, it’s time for strategic thinkers and technical leaders to start speaking the same language.

“We decided several years ago that we were not going to have an IT strategic plan; we were going to have an organizational strategic plan,” Oriol said. “And, just as finance and human resources and marketing and operations are a part of that strategic plan, so is IT. That’s made a big difference [in helping us grow].”

Tom Kiesau, director at Aspen Advisors/Chartis Group, acknowledged that health systems — many of which already have a laundry list of ways they need to improve — can become overwhelmed by the varied technological requirements needed to enable these improvements. 

Oriol suggested associating technology investments with strategic goals by picturing an operational plan like a financial portfolio pyramid: The investments in the bottom of the pyramid should be more basic, or, “the things we need to do to play it safe,” he said, while the purchases needed to “hit the ball out of the park” should be at the top.

For example, an electronic health record is at the bottom of Rady’s pyramid, which he said was a no-brainer in enabling the health system to practice population health. Because of the geography of some of Rady’s locations, the health system made a strategic decision to improve patient access. To prevent patients from having to travel hours to appointments, the system put telemedicine at the top of the pyramid, which was especially handy for issues such as post-operation appointments. Rady embraced its home-monitoring applications and patient portal, and “enabled immediate care in a way that makes the lives of our patients and the lives of our employees easier,” Oriol said.

“If we want to create a strategic advantage, we need to make some strategic investments,” he added.

West Virginia University Health CIO Jim Venturella said that often a health system will have all the necessary tools at its disposal, but are not fully utilizing them.

They need to take a big-picture view of the tools available to them and reassess how they can be better used, he said.

In this way, CIOs can be instrumental to their organizations, he explained.

“We can step back and be facilitators,” he said. “As CIOs, we have unique insights because we see so much of the organization, and we can piece so much together that really not many others can.”