A Q&A with HIMSS18 Book of the Year Awardee Susan Snedaker

We had a chance to chat with HIMSS Book of the Year awardee, Susan Snedaker, MBA, CISM, CPHIMS, CHCIO – author of Leading Healthcare IT: Managing to Succeed and director of infrastructure and operations and information security officer at Tucson Medical Center – about her perspective on the current direction of health IT, what trends, challenges and priority topics that healthcare IT professionals should be aware of, and how to be a leader in the profession.

Susan Snedaker will be honored at the HIMSS Awards Gala on Thursday, March 8 at the Wynn Hotel. Read this Q&A session below to learn more about her.

• What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges facing healthcare IT professionals? 

I think the biggest constant in healthcare IT is balancing organizational demand with the need to drive innovation. Demand is constant and even the most seasoned health IT professional feels the pressure to deliver solutions to increasingly complex problems with the same or less staffing/funding. I think that’s one of the persistent challenges.

More recently, there have been so many changes in healthcare technology and the integration of technologies that health IT departments are pressed to drive innovation. It can be difficult to find the right balance and the right timing. For example, do you spend time and effort looking at how to re-architect your infrastructure in hopes of driving down costs – by, say, adding some cloud-based solutions to the mix – or does that simply add complexity without an associated uptick in value? Do you take time to look holistically at your applications and see if you have overlap, duplication or gaps or do you look to a new solution to meet a specific need? Time is never on our side and the demand to improve what we already have vs. implement what we don’t can be challenging.

Your book touches on a wide variety of trends and topics across the industry. Do you anticipate seeing/hearing any similar themes at HIMSS18?

My book really focused on leadership skills that are touched on in so many different ways during HIMSS. I believe we need to consciously develop healthcare IT leadership so we can continue to improve the solutions we provide for patient care. There are so many exciting facets to health IT that we need leaders from all corners of the IT world, so HIMSS is a great place for those emerging (and experienced) health IT leaders to hone their skills.

• An important topic discussed is how leaders need to create a vision, as well as encourage strategies that enable stronger collaboration. Where should leaders start?

When I first entered healthcare IT, I had a strong IT background but I had no idea how healthcare itself worked. So, my advice to all HIT leaders is to get out into your environment and see how the work is done.

You may not be in the patient room watching the nurse care for the patient, but you should be in the hallways of your organization seeing the flow of work, how technology is used, where the choke points are, etc. Understanding the business you’re working in is the very best place to start because from a shared understanding comes opportunities for true collaboration.

I encourage my staff to go out and watch work being done – often they come back to their desks with inspiration for innovative solutions to problems they’ve observed. When that happens, you have an engaged and empowered workforce, which is the real strength of any IT organization.

• Any specific quotes, use case study examples, etc., which you’d like to call out from the book?

I think one of the really important aspects of healthcare IT leadership, and any leadership for that matter, is the ability to intelligently communicate with a wide array of stakeholders.

This ability is closely tied to emotional intelligence. How well do you listen? How well do you empathize? How self-aware are you and how well do you regulate your emotions and behaviors? These are critical skills because as a leader, we get the best results when people feel comfortable being open and honest, especially when they make mistakes.

I’ve previously worked in environments and for managers who were very punitive, who rarely complimented success, who rarely valued the efforts of the team. In some cases, the behavior crossed the line into what I call business bullying – an environment where people are afraid to be open and honest because no good ever comes from it. It’s a miserable environment to work in and it lead to sub-optimal results.

In my situation, people avoided speaking up and avoided taking ownership for things unless they had to. I saw the ‘winding down’ effect this negative leadership style had on everyone. So, during my research for the book, I really was really tuned into this aspect and saw, perhaps more than before, how vital it is for leaders to really model emotionally intelligent behavior.

• Anything else you’d like to add?

One of my favorite expressions (and one all my direct reports have heard me repeat) is “Leaders always rise.” By that I mean that when we look around the organization, we will see people who are rising to meet challenges. Those are the folks who either know how to or want to be leaders. This is what I look for when developing career paths for staff. Not everyone wants to be a leader and that’s fine. But those who aspire to leadership will always find a way to rise up and lead, no matter what their role or job title. So, if you’re looking to develop leaders of tomorrow, look for who’s rising up and start by mentoring those folks so you can instill great leadership traits for success.

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