By Aine Cryts

Marc Probst, CIO and VP, Intermountain Healthcare

Marc Probst, CIO and VP, Intermountain Healthcare

Healthcare leaders aren’t looking for a CIO to show them how to use a mouse, says Marc Probst, CIO and vice president at Salt Lake City, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, an integrated delivery network with 22 hospitals and a broad range of clinics and services. Healthcare leaders are looking to CIOs to understand the underlying technology—like the cloud and mHealth—and figure out how to drive efficiency and improve patient care, while reducing costs.

AXIS recently talked to Probst about the changing role of the healthcare CIO and how he plans to help transform how Intermountain uses technology to help keep its patients healthy.

AXIS: How has the role of healthcare CIO changed over the last few years?

Probst: I think the role of healthcare CIO has changed because the healthcare environment has changed. In the healthcare environment of today, there are clinicians and administrators and business people who are much more sophisticated when it comes to technology and how the business of healthcare should be conducted – and these people have opinions on changing things and the capabilities of the healthcare system.

These people aren’t looking to a healthcare CIO who can show them how to use a mouse. The IT department used to be the epicenter for technology and information systems. Today, that role is moving into the ranks of the users. What hasn’t shifted—what remains with the CIO today—is figuring out the underlying technology. Really, the end users don’t care about the cloud, MIPS [architecture], and data storage.

AXIS: What particular skills does today’s health system call for in a CIO?

Probst: The evolution has been toward a much more technology-focused CIO who can really be efficient with that technology, while trying to decrease costs. We talk the same way that we did 40 years ago, but the healthcare world of today requires us to look for greater efficiency; we’re trying to provide a 24/7/365 high-reliability service.

There’s a strategic aspect to the healthcare CIO role. Very few people have the enterprise view of the CIO. They’re focused on every function and every business and every clinical tool being used. We’re not proceduralists; we don’t focus on gallbladders. We understand the tools and how they need to be stitched together, for population and health and other purposes.

AXIS: What projects are you focused on at Intermountain?

Probst: I’m in sales mode right now. Intermountain needs to have a cohesive digital strategy. And I’m still working with leadership. They’re intrigued.

Everyone sees the need for all of this to come together. Everything’s going mobile, everything’s being monitored [in terms of Fitbits and smartphone-based glucose monitors]. We’re focusing on patient health, not procedures. We have tools today we didn’t have three years ago. But not everyone is ready to fully implement these tools.

We’re struggling with how you get someone to use these tools. Who wants to go to the hospital’s patient portal just to check on their health status? People want to go to FoxNews or their Fitbit or Twitter or Facebook. That means we want to create tools that factor in those behaviors. It’s probably not one answer. It’s about how we integrate all of this, and take that experience that many people have today and make it better. It’s about bringing in data from the EHR and FitBits and Garmin watches and the new digital blood glucose blood machines.

It’s about integrating all of that information within the EHR so that we have a fuller view of the patient. More and more, we want to stay engaged with patients to keep them healthy and have better lifestyles.

AXIS: Talk to me about the ways you’re trying to do this at Intermountain.

Probst: Physicians and nurses are struggling with these really clunky EHRs, so we need to figure out how to build smaller, lighter applications for scheduling surgeries and for real-time messaging. And we want to do this on our smartphones and tablets. We want to make it lighter. We don’t have to have 150 drop-down windows in the EHR.

The good news is we’re only months away from really helping clinicians have a better experience with all of this technology. We’re in a much better position than we were two years ago.

So much has changed. Now we’re all saying cloud security has been figured out. We have so many more monitoring devices than we had two years ago. Everyone has one today. The options are massive. I’ve never seen technology play this important a role in my entire career. It depends on how creative we can be. I’m pretty bullish about the future.

AXIS: If you were to write a job description for a healthcare CIO, what would some of the required skills be?

Probst: On a foundational level, if you can’t manage the technology, you’re in the wrong business. You have to manage the technology creatively—in a different way than it’s been managed before.

You have to be an innovator. That’s not like being an inventor. It’s about how you take care of all of the problems and the technology being thrown at you, and you have to make the technology useful to end users.

Finally, you have to be a team builder. No one can do this alone. This work has to be done by significant teams, those with very diverse backgrounds.


About Marc Probst:

Marc Probst is CIO and vice president at Intermountain Healthcare. Probst has also been appointed to serve on the Federal Healthcare Information Technology Policy Committee, which is helping to develop health IT policy for the US government.

A board member of the University of Utah School of Nursing, the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME), and the Utah Food Bank, he is a frequent speaker on health information strategy, innovation, analytics, standards, and policy.

Probst has a degree in finance from the University of Utah and an MBA from George Washington University.