Health IT Implementations Now a Team Sport: Q&A with Sue Schade

Technology procurement and implementation at provider organizations looks a lot different today than it did just five to 10 years ago. Gone are the days where the CIO is the sole technology decision-maker (phew!), and healthcare solutions providers have had to adjust, shifting to a team-based approach to selling that accounts for those that speak the language of both healthcare and tech. To better understand the changing spheres of influence in the provider technology decision-making process, we spoke with one of the industry’s Vital Voices, Sue Schade, principal at StarBridge Advisors and interim chief technology officer at the University of Vermont Health Network, to learn more about how she is advising clients navigating through the intricacies of health IT procurement and implementation. 

Q. You recently wrote about the “blame IT” mentality that tends to arise when there’s a technology fail, and how critical it is that IT teams work closely with their business partners and solicit input and feedback from frontline workers together. Why do healthcare technology solutions developers so often ignore this advice—not consulting clinicians and others on the frontlines of healthcare in the development of technology designed for them?

There is a lot of awareness and intent about the need to include clinical team leaders in technology decisions that affect their areas of responsibility. However, the healthcare industry wants decisiveness and quick advances, and this important step is often left behind.

The key element in these decisions is partnership. Organizations must form partnerships about systems, needs, functionalities, and features so that when a new technology is implemented, it is a solution that truly works for all parties. 

Currently, organizations use acceptance testing to test and validate new software. This ensures that when the system is ready, all key people were involved in the product design and are able to tell if the product does what it was intended to do. This often does not include frontline staff, who learn about the product during training.

Q. At the 6th annual Healthcare IT Marketing Community conference in Boston, you shared your unique perspective and advice to healthcare technology marketers looking to connect with executives and decision makers. Having been on both the buy and sell-side in healthcare technology, how important is it for healthcare technology developers to publish proprietary data/research? How much did the presence or absence of proprietary data and research influence your decision to implement a technology solution when you were in the provider CIO seat?

Currently, it is difficult to distinguish between truthful reviews and paid reviews. Although research and studies can be sponsored, publishing peer-reviewed research and data is one way to validate results in the market. It’s extremely important for healthcare technology developers to publish proprietary data and research that backs up the claims they make about their products. Such data and research should make clear how organizations are using the product and what they are doing with it. It’s a key part of a product or service’s evolution. Additionally, these products are not just used on a micro level, so it is important to learn how the product or service is contributing to the industry as a whole. 

Q. What are some of the ways that health system CIOs prove their outcomes in terms of technology investments? 

CIOs use a measurement called benefits realization to prove the impact technology investments have on their organizations. However, this is not done frequently. This measurement tool is key because organizations are primarily focused on implementing and investing, and adding benefits realization can help determine the actual ROI of the IT.

On the other hand, healthcare is so complex that it is hard to pinpoint one initiative or claim that technology has helped solve a specific problem. For example, if readmission rates were decreased at a hospital that recently implemented a new technology, it could have played a role in that improvement, but it’s impossible to attribute it to any one reason; it’s more likely the result of multiple reasons. 

Q. With the proliferation of C-suite titles inside health systems, how do technology investment decisions get made? Who are the buyers and who are the influencers? 

Today, decisions are no longer made unilaterally.  CIOs now act as partners with other C-suite executives who help implement the technology. For core IT investments the CIO usually works in partnership with the CFO, COO, CMO and CNO to decide if the organization will benefit from the product. However, clinical investments are more complex and require a broader group of people to make the decision. These decisions will likely also include the CMIO, CNIO, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Analytics Officer, and Chief Quality Officer to determine the importance of the software and how it will be implemented. There is no longer one person with sole purchasing power; now, executives are working as a team to ensure the product they are implementing is beneficial from multiple angles. 

Q. From StarBridge’s perspective, what are the top three priorities when it comes to investing in healthcare technology – and why? What gets the greenlight vs. red light?

Although there are several shared priorities across provider organizations, each one is in a different place when evaluating healthcare technologies. There are many nuances that define where an organization is at and what they need to succeed. For example, at the University of Vermont Health Network, Epic Wave 1 is three months away. Wave 2 will be in 2020 and Wave 3, the following year in 2021. Wave 1 will include training 10,000 users over a 6-week period for a November 1 go live. This process is incredibly challenging and time consuming, and will involve thousands of hours in labor and support. That said, the anticipated payoff is significant as the University of Vermont Health Network will be able to serve their patients more efficiently and in a more integrated manner (

Q. What part of the health system is most ripe for disruption? Where is the need for new tech and innovation high, and the supply low? 

The shift from inpatient care to outpatient care is not going to stop. Due to this, digital health and telehealth are crucial; it’s where the future of healthcare lies.

Q. StarBridge Advisors recently launched a dedicated service—C-Change—to equip women with critical leadership training and resources to help break through the glass ceiling. Are there any specific pieces of advice or adages from mentors you’ve had in the past that you’ve taken to heart and pass on today? 

You can think of C-Change in three ways. The first being Sea-Change, which means having a profound or notable transformation in health IT leadership. The second being See-Change, meaning the ability of seeing the change in leadership style to one that is “power with” and brings out the best in people. By power with we mean a more collaborative leadership style vs power and control over others. The third is C-suite Change – we want to see women occupy at least 50 percent of healthcare CIO positions and all the roles along the way.

One piece of advice I received from a former boss that I still remember is always, always, always do what is right for the organization. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. 

From a personal career perspective, you have to own your career and make the choices that are right for you. This is something that I like to tell anyone – any gender, any industry.

For more information on Sue, please visit and StarBridge Advisors.

Rob CroninComment