Do Hospital #HIT Leaders Need Business Coaches?

Though they don’t always cop to it, a goodly number of senior business leaders pay very good money — I’ve heard quotes as high as $10,000 a year — for the help of an executive coach. Part high-end consultant, part amateur therapist, executive coaches help VPs and C-suite execs make better decisions by giving them an unvarnished view of their current situation and the inspiration to carry out their most ambitious plans.

This may have something in common with bringing on a partner like, say, Deloitte, but it’s decidedly different. While executive coaches may have worked in a bigshot consulting firm like PwC, their relationship is decidedly with the individual, and a trusted one at that.  The process of executive coaching sounds like a very useful one. (I’ll probably try it someday — when I have $10,000 to spare!)

The thing is, while I could be missing something, I’ve never heard so much as a hint that senior HIT executives are retaining executive coaches. It makes me wonder whether CtOs and VPs of IT still define their job largely by technical skills rather than their capacity for making strategic decisions with hospital- or system-wide implications.

The inescapable reality is that HIT execs have long outgrown supergeek status and are increasingly a key part of their healthcare organization’s future. So if they’re open for growth, HIT leaders may very well want to test out the executive coaching model, particularly in working out the following:

  • ACO development:  While the ACO contracting and development process may be led by other departments, health IT leaders have the power to make or break these agreements by how they support then. A VP of business development may spearhead such efforts, but it’s the health IT exec who will make or break how effectively the ACO handles population health support, risk management, data analytics and more.
  • Managing digital health: I hardly need to remind HIT execs of this, but the most important directives as to how to work with digital health tools aren’t going to come from the CEO down, but from the CIO or VP up. With the healthcare industry just beginning to grasp the value app-laden smartphones and tablets, smart watches, sensor-laden clothing, telemedicine and other rapidly emerging  technologies can bring, it’s the health IT exec who must lead the charge. And that means knowing how to solve critical business problems that extend well beyond IT’s boundaries.
  • EMR transformation: As hard as you’ve worked on implementing and tuning your EMR, it’d be nice to think you could stick a fork in it and consider it done.  But EMRs are having new demands placed on them seemingly every day, including integration of massive volumes of wearables and other patient-generated data; number-crunching and making sense of population health data; connecting revenue cycle management functions with EMRs and much more.  Deciding how to handle this spectrum of issues is the job of a business/tech thinker, not solely an IT guru.

Look, I’m not suggesting that the executive coaching is for everyone, health IT executives included. But I do believe that the right kind of executive coaching relationship could help HIT leaders to make a smoother transition into the even more critical role they are inheriting today. And anything that supports that transition is probably worth a shot.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • It’s so valuable when executives recognize the need to develop their own “soft skills” before trying to engage the same in their teams’…..deep listening, cooperation, observation, trust, respect, empathy…. just because it’s HIT related doesn’t mean these communication and collaboration qualities are tossed aside. Thank you for your post, Anne.

  • Stephanie:

    I’m glad you found it useful. My sense is that HIT leaders seldom spend much time polishing their interpersonal and strategic skills; mostly, they get thrown into challenging situations and learn on the fly. But that’s far from an ideal way to go, as I see it.


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