Recognized by Health Data Management as one of the ‘Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT’, Dr. Maia Hightower is the Chief Medical Information Officer for The University of Utah Health. She has lead or collaborated a number of initiatives ranging from EMR optimization and usability, introduction of new technology and population health initiatives, quality reporting and process improvement and was cited by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of ‘50 hospital and health system CMIOs to know’.

Prior to joining the University of Utah Health team, she was the Chief Medical Information Officer and Interim Chief Population Health Officer for The University of Iowa Health Care. She joined the faculty of the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine in August 2015, after serving as Associate Medical Director for Stanford Health Care’s University Healthcare Alliance. 



What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Probably, just to be me; to be my authentic self. I try to be that every day and to live up to my values. I think being authentic means a lot of different things to different people but for me, it’s when my behavior matches my values. It’s not about bringing all the bad habits to work but living up to my best self, that’s what I think is authentic.

One of the traits that I have been trying to put forward is kindness and compassion. That’s how I see the world. I feel like I am being truly authentic when my behavior matches with kindness and compassion. Identify with the values that you find most important and try to exhibit them in your behaviors. That was the best advice I’ve ever received.

Professionally, what do you consider your greatest achievement?

Great achievements develop over time, but I am most passionate about the healthcare IT equity model. What I am really proud about is that the model provides leaders with a framework to address questions on our role in equity, diversity and inclusion in an impactful way. So that they don’t sound like an ad-hoc, once-off consideration but are made sustainable in the long run.

I feel that the framework has the potential to make a broader impact on a larger scale. If all leaders accept their roles in making a difference in the world when it comes to addressing disparities, together, we can scale the impact across so many populations that are not receiving the best care they could have access to. Even though it’s relatively new, this is where I feel my biggest accomplishment has been to date.

If you could change one thing about the present healthcare system, what would it be?

To be more data-driven. I think we still rely on our old habits instead of anecdote because this is the way that medicine has always been practiced. But I do believe that if we follow the data, we will recognize where there’s an opportunity and be able to make digital solutions more effective than they currently are. I believe it will be optimal for the transformation of care if we can use data in combination with our creativity or other traits that uniquely make us human. Human without data or data without human is just inefficient.

What’s the focus of your talk at the upcoming AIMed clinician series?

I will be presenting part of the health IT equity model. One thing that I recognized over the last few months is that there was an incredible interest to make a difference in addressing systemic racism and systemic bias within our healthcare system. Many of our leaders just don’t know how to begin to address the problem and some of them just find it overwhelmingly complex.

So, the model outlines some of the outcomes that we may want to drive when it comes to healthcare equity, diversity and inclusion and the competencies that drive those outcomes. One can start anywhere within the model which users regard as important for themselves or their organizations. They may wish to start with a vision or a strategy before deciding what should be the appropriate actions.

For our organization, we started by creating a key performance indicator framework. We asked ourselves questions like, ‘How do we measure equity or health disparities?’, ‘Are we creating an equitable experience for our patients and employees?’, ‘Do we have a pipeline to uphold diversity and inclusion’ and design or find a measurement framework to quantify how well we have done?

We all know that there’s a problem out there and I can’t say that the model will solve every problem because we actually haven’t yet. I don’t think any organization is at the incredibly mature stage where they have all the processes in place but I believe we need to start somewhere and grow it over time so that we can continue to improve and be able to eliminate some of the disparities that exist in healthcare.

What are some of the other efforts your organization have initiated to tackle existing challenges in healthcare?

We recognize that biases in big data and algorithms are something that need addressing. For example, things like; if someone is Black, they will be given three more points in an algorithm, which eventually decreases their access to a transplant or a referral to a specialist. So, we decided to explore them in simple statistical algorithms. Along the way, we found that many of the race or gender-based algorithms also perpetuate an unequal distribution of scarce healthcare resources. We thought we should address them too.

We also created a systematic approach to look at some of our race or gender-based clinical decision support. We want to make clinicians aware when there’s a race or gender-based component in the algorithm, so that they can make decisions based on their knowledge of the patient’s circumstance. We hope to create a culture of inclusion and equity mindset within healthcare to directly address implicit bias. After all, we trust our healthcare workforce to make great decisions, so we need to make them the greatest defense against biases and racism.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in digital health or medical AI?

Since the world is constantly changing, we should approach it with curiosity and humility. There is so much we don’t know and through a desire to be curious, to learn and recognize our limitations, I think that’s where we can come together and explore the value that every single one of us can bring to the table.

Somebody may have a real-world perspective that is not necessarily related to medicine or AI or digital health but still considered significant. So, I think the humility of life experiences coming together to create solutions will have the greatest impact on humanity.


Don’t miss Dr. Maia Hightower’s keynote address at AIMed’s virtual multi-track CME-accredited event, ‘Surgery, ICU and Neurosciences’, on 30th March at 11.30am EST


View the full two day agenda and book here


Part one of this interview can be read here