Hospitals need to focus on IT empowerment

Hiring the right people with the right skills is the first step to closing the digital skills gap in healthcare, but the more important and more challenging step is empowering them.

A seat at the table for the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the key to closing the digital skills gap in healthcare, John Masud Parvez, Group IT Director at Hoan My Medical Corporation and President of Vietnam Social Health Revolution, believes.

In a recent interview with Hospital Insights Asia, Parvez acknowledges that the IT skills gap in healthcare really exists. “This gap is huge,” he says, “especially if we compare it with other industries, like in the banking or financial industry.”

We could say this is because of the healthcare sector’s reluctance in adopting digital technologies. In contrast with the banking industry, hospitals tend to be more “cautious and defensive” when it comes to embarking on their own digital transformation journey. It was only during the pandemic that hospitals woke up from a deep slumber and saw the advantages of technology to make care more accessible and cost-effective.

But there are changes that have to be made. Closing the digital skills gap in healthcare requires IT empowerment in hospitals, and this starts with fixing the decision-making table’s structure.

The decision-making table

Hospitals lack the necessary IT skills because they do not focus on IT empowerment, Parvez outlines. Most, if not all, hospitals in Asia have medical doctors in the decision-making table. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Chief Operating Officers (COOs), and Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) are often medical degree holders; hence, the larger focus is on ensuring “medical quality and control.”

While this medical people dominance in hospitals is not at all discouraged, as hospitals are built for safe and high-quality care for patients, we also have to include the perspective of people with a technological background, especially today when the sector is swiftly realising the potential of digital health.

After all, closing the skills gap will not only benefit hospitals but patients, too. Parvez, who works to transform the patient experience through his expertise in IT, understands that patients will be the ones to ultimately benefit from digital transformation. As workflows become more efficient, doctors become more focused and patients receive the right patient experience they deserve.

Empowering IT people

There are very few skilled IT people who also specialise in healthcare. Healthcare, as we all know, is a different industry altogether in that medical skills cannot be picked up at a faster pace. Medical professionals had several years of education and practice before they are allowed to provide patient care.

Hence, the main problem is getting the right people into the team. Moreover, the healthcare industry has not really been cultivating IT talents. But it doesn’t end here, because even when we get the right people, the problem is in empowering them, Parvez asserts. Empowering these individuals means giving them the opportunity to innovate and contribute to the organisation.

A seat at the table

The idea of IT empowerment, Parvez explains, can be translated into decision-making. This means giving the CIO a seat at the table, rather than just hiring him as an executor of the ideas decided by medical professionals.

“The situation right now at hospitals in Asia is that the strategy comes from the CEO, COO, or CMO, who are all medical people, and the CIO is just tasked to implement the ideas the former came up with,” he describes.

Regardless of the hospital’s size, it has to have a CIO in the decision-making table. If a hospital is big, a CIO will make a difference in the way it does its digital transformation. If it is an old hospital group, it is best to get a Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) apart from the CIO in order to address the reluctance, for instance, from senior management on adapting to the digital way of doing things. For a mid-sized hospital, an IT director will do. For a small hospital that has the vision to grow big, they can tap on shareholders or IT directors.

As long as hospitals bring in technology people onboard as early as possible, Parvez guarantees that business value will definitely increase.

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