Healthcare companies staffing up on top tech talent should use Obama's leadership structure as a guide, says first-ever White House CTO

Healthcare companies staffing up on top tech talent should use Obama's leadership structure as a guide, says first-ever White House CTO

Aneesh Chopra


Aneesh Chopra is the president of CareJourney and former chief technology officer for the White House

  • Healthcare firms that are staffing up on top technology talent have important decisions to make on how to structure the various roles within the C-Suite.
  • The industry should mirror the Obama administration's leadership structure, which split key tasks between the chief technology and chief information officers, argues Aneesh Chopra, the first-ever White House CTO.
  • Organizations should also avoid choosing the "title of the month" and let the ultimate goals of the role dictate the title instead, says McKinsey & Company's Laura Merling, who helps organizations with their digital transformations.
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Former-President Barack Obama's administration should be a model for healthcare firms weighing how to divide digital responsibilities in the C-Suite, according to his past chief technology officer.

The industry is increasingly tapping experts from Silicon Valley and other industries to help lead their tech transformations. Those initiatives can be as simple as launching new online systems for patients to book appointments or moving data storage to the cloud, to eventually more advanced applications that can help hospitals know of potential health issues even before someone sets foot inside a hospital.

Figuring out how those new executives will fit into the existing corporate structure can be difficult, but it's vital to the success of the tech overhaul.

Aneesh Chopra - the country's first chief technology officer, appointed in 2009 by Obama - argues that companies should split responsibilities between the CTO and the chief information officer like the White House did at the time. The tech head, he says, should be focused on how organizations can use data to improve operations and the CIO should manage the security of the information.


"I saw first hand the need to decouple infrastructure from applications in use," he told Business Insider. "My focus was on the use of technology, data, and innovation to solve problems. We had a separate CIO whose job was to make sure our networks were secure, were uptime and efficient. These are two new muscles."

At the White House, Chopra held the top technology spot during the implementation of Obamacare, efforts to open up more of the federal government's data for use by the public sector, and a $30 billion initiative to digitize medical records. He is currently the president of CareJourney, a company that aims to use machine learning to better match patients to the correct course of treatment.

Read more:Meet the 30 young leaders who are transforming the future of healthcare and disrupting a $3.5 trillion industry

Analyzing and protecting data are 'fundamentally different' and require two executives to manage

For chief information officers, the most important part of their job is protecting the company's data, says Chopra, who called it a "firing offense" if there is an incident. There's good reason for that. Since 2009, there's been over 2,546 data breaches among healthcare firms, according to federal statistics.

But the role also requires ensuring the platforms are running, known as uptime. Perhaps most importantly, the individual must be able to accomplish those two tasks in a cost-effective manner. Unlike other departments, the IT sector is almost always considered a drain on company resources because no revenue is generated and the technology is often very expensive.


"The best CIOs have found a way to accomplish the uptimes goals and the security goals all within a budget that the institution can afford. That's your primary job," Chopra said.

The job of chief technology officer instead should focus on bringing all that data together and analyzing it to determine, for example, how best to treat a patient or whether an individual is prone to regularly miss appointments.

The role of the CTO is "more about putting the data to use, not about securing it or uptime or efficiency," says Chopra.

Sometimes the demands of the job may require the creation of an entirely different role, like in the case of Mt. Sinai Hospital, a company Chopra recommends firms look to for guidance.

The hospital chain recently tapped Andrew Kasarskis as its first chief data officer. Kasarskis previously served as the vice chairman of the genetics department at the provider's Icahn School of Medicine. In the new role, he'll work to harmonize the clinical, financial, and administrative data to help Mt. Sinai then analyze the information to improve patient care.


It's a different tact from other healthcare firms like Providence St. Joseph Health, which hired B.J. Moore from Microsoft to serve as its chief information officer.

"We're seeing more out of industry people with tech experience coming into healthcare," Chopra said. "But the more fundamental story is 'what's the job to be done and how does one organize the talent pool to get that job done to the maximum level.'"

Define the goal of the position first and 'don't choose the title of the month because it sounds good'

The first step in establishing roles and titles is figuring out the ultimate goal of the position, according to Laura Merling, a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company who helps organizations with their digital transformations.

Chief information officers, for example, are not typically attuned to managing financial reports and shouldn't be in a role that requires new revenue generation or cost-cutting.

"It's all about what you are trying to achieve and, and then that'll determine the role," Merling said in a recent interview. "Don't choose the title of the month because it sounds good."


Companies should also keep in mind under what leader they put top talent. When Merling was at Ford Motor Co., for example, she served as vice president of connected vehicle commercialization within the IT department, a structure she says "failed miserably" because the sector is not traditionally one that drives profits and instead is known to require large amounts of funding.

"Having a revenue number tied to the CIO role is really horrible because it's a cost center," said Merling, referencing the strong likelihood that the business unit will not create new income.

As more healthcare firms hire top tech talent, they are likely to take different approaches to the job titles and how to divide up roles. But while the outcome will vary by company, every organization needs to ensure their data is protected and utilized efficiently for the digital transformation to be successful.