Gartner To Health CIOs: Plan For Paperless Era Or Fall Behind

"The big takeaway of what we've been through in the last decade is that there is danger, if you will, in our accomplishment of this major project," said Shaffer. "If you look at things like the discussion of meaningful use criteria, it gives the impression that when we have completed our deployment of EMR, we're done. In reality, we are very far from done."

If health-care organizations are to thrive in an EMR-heavy, paperless era, the role of IT will be more crucial than ever "- and so will the roles of the CIO and chief medical information officer (CMIO), Shaffer said.

The modern health-care CIO must not only run IT operations effectively but also manage the process for how organizations derive high business value from those operations, and be able to spot trends and new frontiers ahead of the curve.

"A CIO must understand the risk of being too early, and also of being too late, and move forward appropriately," Shaffer said.

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Organizations must do two things immediately to ensure productivity in the paperless era, she explained. First, they must create a comprehensive enterprise business value process that partners with " not relies on " health-care IT vendors. Second, they must structure an organization's process management with an eye toward the demands of an EMR-based infrastructure.

"Infrastructure and BI [business intelligence] never get prioritized," Shaffer said. "Applications get prioritized because applications have the sexy appeal. But you have to treat infrastructure and reporting and BI as layers behind those applications, and translate your planning into initiatives."

Finally, Shaffer urged CIOs to think of health-care informatics as moving from "workflow" to "lifeflow" -- the idea, in other words, that EMR and other health-care IT advances center on the patient and consumer experience.

"When you are successful at adoption of EMR, you are not done," she said. "What really happens is you have lots of highly engaged individuals at all levels, from business to nursing. They're more networked, more productive and more interested in other IT ideas. You think, we've got this clinical data, we've got this wireless network. We can do more with it. You're right."