Hiring a healthcare CIO

Five Challenges to Finding the Right Healthcare CIO


Healthcare is rapidly changing, as is the technological infrastructure supporting it. As the stakes grow, healthcare organizations depend on their chief information officers (CIOs) and technology leaders more than ever to drive strategic technology roadmaps, optimize electronic health records, maintain information security and regulatory compliance, and leverage their organization’s data to uncover new opportunities.

However, finding senior technology leaders with a deep understanding of a modern healthcare organization is increasingly difficult. As technology continues to evolve, the industry’s talent challenges only become more pronounced.

Kirby Bates Associates’ executive recruiters have provided healthcare organizations with proven leadership solutions for over three decades. During that time, we’ve gained insight into what makes the best C-Suite leaders and observed the industry’s changes in recent years. Here, we’ll outline five challenges we see healthcare organizations facing  when they’re hiring a CIO or other senior technology leaders. 

1. Feeder-Industries for Healthcare Technology Talent are Limited

The healthcare industry as a whole is facing talent acquisition challenges, and technology roles aren’t shielded from that in any way. The natural response is to maximize a talent pool by recruiting  from other industries, but that approach can  pose a unique challenge for healthcare organizations.

Healthcare is a complex and highly regulated field with a unique sense of urgency–the stakes are literally “life or death” with patient safety on the line 24/7/365. Technology plays a key role in supporting the vital work of maintaining reliable and effective patient care information and communication  within hospitals. 

When technology leadership talent comes from other industries, it can be extremely challenging to acclimate to this high stakes  “always on call” environment. Even professionals transplanted from highly scrutinized industries such as finance and banking who are used to maintaining continuous operations aren’t ready for the pressure of  healthcare in which technology outages can shut down operating rooms mid-surgery.

Additionally, we’ve heard it said that healthcare is roughly a decade behind many other industries when it comes to technology advancements.  There are many reasons for this effect, including regulatory limitations, risk aversion, and cost. This is a challenge for organizations trying to recruit from different sectors in which the digital transformation  is in the distant past. Technology leaders from other industries can grow frustrated with the slower pace of technology change within healthcare. 

2. Technology Leaders Must Have Rapidly-Changing Specialized Knowledge

The ideal CIO should stay abreast of emerging technologies related to healthcare, especially those related to data.  Since the adoption of electronic healthcare records, healthcare organizations have been amassing enormous volumes of data. The journey to making good use of that data is in its beginning stages.

“The discoveries that CIOs will help uncover in data in the coming years will revolutionize healthcare in ways we can’t yet imagine.” – Jocelyn Clarke, Assistant Vice President of Executive Search Services

By overseeing the management of healthcare data, CIOs and technology leaders can enable healthcare systems to leverage data analytics to derive meaningful insights that can inform clinical decisions, improve patient outcomes, and enhance operational efficiency.

As each part of the care-delivery process and organizational health is increasingly dependent on technology, the CIO needs to understand their role in forming a sustainable strategy and the latest techniques to implement it. However, the right CIO and technology leaders need to be in place to get there. Finding talent with the right skills to lead these groundbreaking initiatives proves challenging even for the most prestigious organizations.

3. CIOs Must Have a Proven Ability to Build Successful Organizational Cultures

Organizational culture percolates downward from leadership and heavily influences recruitment and retention of staff. Great CEOs know this. It’s why so many go to great lengths to support their staff and build a culture that enables the success of individual team members and their organization as a whole. When a CEO fails to foster a positive organizational culture, it can impact retention and recruitment, which in healthcare can have negative downstream effects on patient outcomes.

CIOs are similarly responsible for retaining and recruiting staff within technology divisions. If they can’t successfully keep talent on board or recruit new staff, it can have profound consequences for the organization’s success. An executive whose leadership results in attrition could expose the organization to new risks without the support to mitigate them.

4. CIOs Must Have Strong Collaborative Skills

Today’s healthcare CIO bears little resemblance to the caricature of a technology expert down in a basement coding in the dark. Today, CIOs are key members of hospital executive teams driving significant organizational change that influences the financial health of the organization . Therefore, they need to cultivate trust not only with the teams reporting to them, but also interprofessional groups across the organization. 

If adversarial relationships develop between these areas, it can lead to dangerous conflicts of interest. For example, consider if a cyber security officer notices a vulnerability in the organization’s technological structure. It could require immediate action, but key decision-makers might not fully appreciate the urgency of the situation.

A CIO who has cultivated relationships based on trust and the pursuit of shared goals is better equipped to influence change that might be met with initial resistance. This enables them to rapidly influence organizational change to advance strategic initiatives, improve patient care, and reduce risk.

5. CIOs Must be Agile Innovators

For a CIO to succeed in the future healthcare climate,  they need to not only identify ways to innovate, but they must be ready to implement strategic plans quickly. Healthcare IT leaders proved their agility during COVID-19 when many hospitals and healthcare organizations accelerated their plans to bring telemedicine offerings to market from multi-year plans to implementation in a matter of weeks.

Finding a CIO with the expertise, knowledge, and leadership abilities to pivot quickly—and bring their team along — is vital for an organization’s ability to stay competitive.

Many CIOs may be able to accelerate strategic plans—but not sustainably. If new initiatives ultimately burden the rest of the organization, they’ll deteriorate and lead to risks over time. 

Engage a Healthcare Executive Search Specialist

A healthcare executive search consultant from Kirby Bates can connect your organization to the talent you need. Our search consultants not only have the ability to source candidates that you expect, but have also  cultivated relationships and built trust with healthcare executives and CIOs as speakers at industry-leading conferences.

This enables our team to tap a vast network of available candidates, and importantly,  those who aren’t actively seeking new roles yet but may be the ideal fit for your healthcare organization. By understanding how people drive business and how business can enable people to become their best selves, our recruiters can cement the connections and relationships that lead to long-term success.

“As a recruiter, I’m helping individuals improve their lives, grow, and thrive. At the same time, I’m helping organizations access skills and talent.” – Jocelyn Clarke

Kirby Bates Associates: Your Partners for Healthcare Executive Search

If your organization faces a challenging recruitment process, turn to the experts. Kirby Bates’ executive search consultants have an average of 20 years of experience in healthcare, during which they’ve formed and cultivated relationships with emerging leaders and stayed connected with leaders who are already established in the healthcare industry.

Our collaborative approach delivers exceptional quality and timely results. Our team will develop a clear vision for your organization’s future, engage candidates, advance inclusion and diversity, and achieve a successful outcome. We’ll support your organization and the final candidate as they integrate into their new role.

To experience excellence in executive search, contact Kirby Bates Associates today.