Why CMIOs Matter, and Why We Hired One

On Monday morning, April 4, we were proud to announce that Dr. Todd Rothenhaus has come onboard here at athenahealth to serve in the role of chief medical information officer, or CMIO. It’s a new position and we’re excited he’s joined us. Among many other tasks he’ll take on, he’ll be working on various product development and physician advocacy initiatives.

So now that we’ve got one on the payroll…you might ask: what exactly is a CMIO? And why do we now have one at athenahealth?

I have always known, at a gut level, that from a sales perspective, CMIOs are more important for us to engage with early in the sales process than a traditional CIO (no offense Halamka, I still wanna be friends). In fact, we became major sponsors of CMIO magazine long before I truly appreciated the role of a CMIO!

The CMIO is almost always a doctor, but a doctor in an executive position responsible for managing the health information in a medical organization. They lead implementation of EMR and other health information technology systems. And it seems there is a Lorax element to most. Remember that Dr. Seuss favorite? Well, in the way that the Lorax speaks for the trees, the CMIOs I know speak for the other docs in their organization where management of information is concerned.

Related to these Lorax responsibilities, they speak more to clinical outputs/outcomes, than to means. It’s not about which application is running and how it is backed up and whether it is ANSI this or HIPAA that, but whether it will interfere with care delivery or improve it.

We decided a long time ago that regardless of whether they are independent or employed, we at athenahealth are going to focus on serving physicians. For five years our hedgehog has been: Everything we build will make us the best in the world at getting docs money for doing the right thing. As docs got acquired by hospitals, this became harder to stick by, especially as the early focus was on adopting EMRs “at all costs.” Now that we are coming across the burn victims from the first wave of often disastrous EMR roll-outs, those CMIOs are becoming incredibly valuable allies to us. And this is the main reason we decided we needed our own CMIO.

Todd Rothenhaus is a ton of things. He’s a professor, a doctor, a recovering CIO. He is also a survivor of the EMR first wave burn. At his former health care system, Rothenhaus started into a large rollout of a software-based EMR. It was a big financial commitment up front and the rollout didn’t go well. Aside from the docs getting bogged down in the rollout, there was a financial cost to each doc who eventually got online.

Then Todd saw the low upfront cost, cloud-based services of athenahealth and pushed for a switch. Now he will make sure that our new clients don’t go through what his docs endured. (It’s worth noting that 35% of our new clients are throwing out an EMR software product that they bought less than five years ago and bogged them down.)

We need to make sure that our EMR functionality is never in the same book as the words “at all costs.” Further, we need to make sure that we provide some version of Thneed (something everyone needs) that’s approved as environmentally (i.e., doctor) friendly by our resident Lorax…or end up like the Once-ler.

Jonathan Bush, is CEO and President of athenahealth, a leading provider of internet-based business services to physicians since 1997. Prior to joining athenahealth, he served as an EMT for the City of New Orleans, was trained as a medic in the U.S. Army, and worked as a management consultant with Booz Allen & Hamilton.

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