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The cancer patient comes first for CTCA CIO when setting IT strategy

CIOs today have a tough juggling act: They must deliver the IT required by company employees, meet the IT demands of the business's external customers, and of course, enable the enterprise IT systems that help their companies make money. At the recent 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, SearchCIO's Associate Site Editor Emily McLaughlin asked Kristin Darby, newly appointed CIO at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, how she prioritizes all these demands. Darby, a former accountant who went on to specialize in healthcare IT, is not a doctor, but she certainly thinks like one. For this CIO, the patient comes first.

Also: Hear how Darby got to be a CIO in this companion video, Cancer Treatment Centers of America CIO: Passion for IT began at home.

You have a lot of customers to deal with internally [and] externally, and then you have your patients. How do you prioritize and strategize IT to deal with each of those customers?

Kristin Darby: I think that's a great question because it's a daily challenge, but what's important is the patient. I think that's the most grounding in any of the prioritization or evaluation discussions. When a different initiative, opportunity, etc., comes in, me and my teams sit back and say, 'How does this impact our patient?' And whether it's an internal customer's request or an external request, once we understand that value delivery and how it impacts the patient -- either at the bedside or somewhere in the continuum of care that we're interacting with them -- it allows us to better understand where we want to focus our initiatives and how much we want to invest in certain things.

If it's a back-office support test, for example, that supports the operation and enables us to deliver care to patients, that has a particular rating versus something that impacts a patient directly at the bedside. And so, those are considerations we take in place, but it's always focused around the patient.

Your focus is mostly on the patient first. Who makes those decisions in the company? What role do you play in making those decisions?

Darby: I play the role as being one of the strategic leaders on the Executive Cabinet that really assesses the overall priorities for the organization and determines where we're going to focus our energies and investments. As part of any type of prioritization process, there's a governance process that we go through that looks at what is going to have the most impact to our particular objectives for that year and how do they affect the patient.

Every department really looks at that, which includes a multidisciplinary input from the clinical side; and then in addition to that, we also include executives from all the different business lines to make sure that we're in agreement across the organization as to where our priorities will be placed -- whether it's an IT initiative or any other type of initiative within the organization.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Emily McLaughlin, SearchCIO associate site editor.

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How do you balance internal and external customer priorities?
That's great and everything, but don't forget about your employees. They are ones doing the actual work and driving the company's success. I would advise showing them acts of appreciation every now and then.