CIO Balances Security, Staffing, Innovation

By Romi Carrell Wittman –

Tucson Medical Center Leads Industry in Tech

Technology is revolutionizing the healthcare industry, giving both patients and medical professionals the tools to make better healthcare decisions. Tucson Medical Center, a 70-year-old nonprofit hospital, has emerged as a leader in information technology and the use of data to assist medical professionals and patients manage healthcare. 

Every year since 2012, TMC has received the “Most Wired” designation by the American Hospital Association’s Health Forum. TMC is one of a select few hospitals nationwide – and the only hospital in Arizona – to receive this designation. 

But what does this mean in practice? In a nutshell, TMC has consistently demonstrated excellence in IT implementation and innovation with regard to patient care and records management. 

As chief information officer of a hospital with 600-plus beds, Frank Marini deftly juggles the competing priorities that all CIOs face – resource allocation, staffing and recognition of the next big technological advance. 

BizTucson spoke with Marini and asked him about the big issues that face CIOs today.

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing CIOs today?

A. Cybersecurity is certainly a big issue and we spend a lot of time dealing with it. For us, electronic medical records technology, or EMR, is also huge. With EMR we have even more data, more business intelligence and data analytics. Our challenge is turning that into actionable data – while keeping the bad guys out. 

Another challenge we face is the staffing component. In tech, there is a range of jobs from the deep technical, like systems and software engineers, to jobs like project management and business analysts. The challenge is in deep-tech jobs and finding people to fill those jobs. 

At TMC, we often find people on staff and train them for some of these positions. For example, there are really talented nurses who want to transition from the operations side to business analysis. We also have a program where our IT staff teaches local high school kids programming. And we have unpaid internships for people who are interested in IT and want to learn more. It’s part of TMC’s commitment to the community. 

Q. How can CIOs best balance network accessibility with security?

A. It’s a simple approach to accomplish something difficult. We think about the minimum necessary to do the job. We look at defined roles, then what that job needs (in terms of data access). For example, we look at nurses and ask what’s the minimum amount of data they need to effectively do their job, then craft access around that. We also review roles and access periodically and go from there, knowing that there will always be exceptions.

Q. What are the key/best network development/investments a CIO can make?

A. At the end of the day, the people are what will make or break an organization. You must invest in quality people. Hire for fit and soft skills – not just technical skills. We look for people who will be good team members and collaborators. 

As far as infrastructure, don’t skimp on cybersecurity or the network. I may stretch the life of a computer, but I won’t stretch the life of a network switch because the risk is too high. If the network goes down or is really slowed down, people can’t do their jobs. The systems have to run.

Q. What are the technologies people can expect to see in widespread use in the next three to five years?

A. Artificial intelligence – known as AI – has great promise and is maturing rapidly. We’re seeing EMR systems that are smarter and more capable. In the future, AI will be able to compile all the data gathered from diagnostic devices – including more sophisticated wearables – and draw conclusions, enabling medical professionals and patients to make better decisions. It will be a big assist for physicians because AI can process a huge volume of data, more than a human can possibly process. A trained clinician will still make the final call – but they’ll have more data and diagnostics available to make that call. 

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