It’s Not The Health IT You Choose, But The Way You Talk About It

With system upgrades taking shape across the country, IT is no longer just another another department in the hospital. More than ever, it’s integral to how healthcare organizations work and get paid.

But you don’t always see this shifting landscape reflected in hospitals’ leadership structures or practices.

That’s unfortunate. Getting the most out of  the billions being spent on health IT will require clear vision and skillful communication at the top levels, according to a December article in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association.

Doctors, nurses and other team members “must understand the nature of the changes—what the result of the changes will be, how their roles and work will be different, and why change is important,” author Tiankai Wang wrote.

Thoughtful language can go a long way toward minimizing staff resistance and making an implementation successful, explained Wang, a professor of health information management at Texas State University.

Leaders should practice “framing” by promoting the benefits of the technology, such as improved outcomes, lower costs and greater efficiency, Wang wrote. They should also use “rhetorical crafting” by using stories, analogies and other devices to make their message resonate.

Rhetorical crafting, according to Wang, “leverages a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to frame leaders’ message in a form that will connect more easily with staff and help them to embrace the possibilities of the coming change.”

He also advises using words such as “we” and “should” rather than “you” and “must” when talking about IT changes.

At a more fundamental level, though, IT leadership isn’t always valued in healthcare to the extent that other roles are. In 2013, average total cash compensation for chief information officers was eighth-highest of all hospital titles at about $316,000, Modern Healthcare reported.

And despite the growing importance of health IT, it’s also uncommon for hospital CIOs to be promoted to the roles of chief operating officer, president or CEO.

It does happen, though, as David Raths wrote in Healthcare Informatics. In perhaps the best known example, Cincinnati-based Mercy Health, which operates several hospitals, earlier this year named Yousuf Ahmad, who had previously served as CIO, to the chief executive role. Ahmad had also held other management roles, including president of the system’s physician group.

It’s likely a sign of the front-and-center role that IT is now taking at healthcare organizations everywhere.

About the author

James Ritchie

James Ritchie

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.


  • I think this article helps to clarify why we are in the predicament we are in in terms of health IT.
    If you want nurses and Doctors to be partners, start by being honest.

    This article essentially says to mislead your staff.

    the article says that leadership should be : “promoting the benefits of the technology, such as improved outcomes, lower costs and greater efficiency”

    While these are the benefits of good technology, these are not the benefits of using the current crop of EHRs.

    While leadership might not get any awards for brilliance, they can at least be honest and say:

    Good technology, would improve outcomes, decrease costs and increase efficiency, but unfortunately, we did not go that route. Instead we bought an EHR hat will have little or no impact on improving outcomes, will increase our costs by making our staff and our physicians less productive, and markedly decrease efficiency. On the good side we can increase billing by increasing our documentation, and we will get money from the US government, and we will be able to get rid of a few low paid employees (Transcriptionists) by shifting their work to the highest paid member of the team, the physician.”

  • “We and Should” vs “you and must” is how everything should be approached, not just IT.

    I like this thought/belief/statement:
    “IT leadership isn’t always valued in healthcare”

    You’ll see instant value when the network goes down.

    In larger organizations, the real problem is the upper mgmt gets so pampered with their IT setup, they don’t understand what those in the trenches are having to deal with.

    C level folks can demand a tablet to swish around on during meetings, yet if the EHR works on a tablet…it barely works.

Click here to post a comment