CIOs Outline 3 Key Factors for a Good Collaboration with an Industry Partner

By Candace Stuart, Director, Communications & Public Relations


To be successful, collaborations between a healthcare IT department and a partner in industry require aligned goals, aligned priorities and compatible cultures. If any one of those three pillars is amiss, then the collaboration will suffer, according to two CIOs whose partnerships with Foundation firms garnered them top awards from CHIME.

“It has to be a win-win for both parties,” said Deborah Gash, CIO at Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Mo. Working with HCTec, her department reduced staff turnover and improved productivity, a feat that earned them the 2017 CHIME Collaboration Award. “We want to make them successful and they want to make us successful.”

Steve Hess, CIO of UCHealth, a nine-hospital healthcare network based in Aurora, Colo., sees aligned goals as the most important factor in a collaboration, followed by aligned priorities and then good communication. Hess and LeanTaaS shared the 2016 CHIME Collaboration Award for an innovative program using predictive analytics that reduced wait times, cut overtime and improved patient satisfaction scores in an infusion center, despite an increase in the volume of patients.

“If you don’t have alignment of goals with a partner then obviously you will hit roadblocks along the way,” he pointed out. “If you don’t have aligned priorities then one or both of the parties won’t work on it. If things go off track, and they will, you have to have good communications to make sure they get back on track.”

Both Gash and Hess emphasized the need for both sides in a collaboration to be transparent and forthcoming about their challenges and to be clear about what they expect to gain through the partnership. Gash also cited Saint Luke’s Health System and HCTec’s similar cultures and shared values for their success. Hess equated communication style to cultural fit.

Collaborators have to provide a compelling business case to support the investment in time and costs. For instance, UCHealth embraces innovation, but only if it aligns with the health system’s strategic direction, Hess said. Potential collaborations go through an innovation vetting process that starts with an assessment by a multidisciplinary team; if it passes muster, proceeds to a committee; if it is deemed worthwhile is presented to the board; and the board makes the final decision to go forward or not. Hess estimated that only 2 percent of the proposals presented to them are accepted. Occasionally, UCHealth also solicits partners.

Success increases the chances of continuing the partnership or embarking on other collaborations. Based on the positive results from their work with HCTec’s workforce solutions group, Saint Luke’s Health System decided to implement similar strategies in other areas of IT. UCHealth expanded use of LeanTaaS’ solution to six infusion centers with an eye toward adding similar solutions in its operating rooms.

Hess estimated that UCHealth has formally engaged in additional projects with at least two of its collaborators. Collaborators need not be from the healthcare industry, either, if they meet the criteria of aligned goals, aligned priorities and cultural fit. When a sales representative Gash knew from his previous career in healthcare approached her with a solution marketed by his latest employer, she listened. Although the product was originally developed for entertainment, he proposed it could be adapted to healthcare.

His hunch proved to be correct and the benefits demonstrated through Saint Luke’s Health System gave them a foothold in healthcare. “It was a nice collaboration,” she said. “We had good results with them and we helped them.”

More Foundation Insight Volume 2, No. 1: