ASHEVILLE, N.C. – One of the most significant changes John Jenkins made to his IT staff at Cone Health did not actually involve implementing any new technology at all.

Jenkins, CIO of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based hospital system, decided to start his staff meetings with patient care stories – examples of how resolution of a technology issue ultimately helped a patient. The idea was to get IT staffers to think less like technologists and more like service providers. When a nurse or doctor calls with an IT concern, it’s more than resolving a technology problem.

“It becomes a patient issue,” he said.

Jenkins was one of the CIO panelists speaking Tuesday at the annual conference of the North Carolina Healthcare & Information Communications Alliance, or NCHICA. The nonprofit, which helps its members bring IT, analytics and informatics into the healthcare system, is holding its conference in Asheville, N.C.

Jenkins was joined on the panel by Novlet Bradshaw, CIO of Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, and Sheila Sanders, CIO for Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem.

Hospital IT departments were once regarded as having the same role as the tech departments of other institutions – implement and support the organization’s IT infrastructure. But the role has evolved. Bradshaw said that the shift in thinking about technology as a service to healthcare is important. CIOs must understand healthcare so that they can better address how technology can address a hospital’s needs.

Sanders said that for an initiative to be successful, it can’t just be a technology initiative. Ownership of an initiative as a healthcare effort turns a technology project into a health project. The change in thinking has about IT as a health service resulted in measurable results.

The CIOs said that they’re seeing fewer trouble tickets and faster response times. But that’s just a start. Hospital systems have never been short on data. They’re still learning how to make the most from the stores of information. In that regard, they’re following the footsteps of other industries, such as retail and manufacturing, that have turned to mining their data to find ways to improve their operations, Jenkins said.

Ten to 15 years ago, the health care industry was data rich but information poor, Bradshaw said. Much of that data resided in separate places. The industry is now developing better ways to manage and analyze that data, finding ways to put that data to use.

“Now we have the capability to turn data into information, and eventually wisdom,” Bradshaw said. “We’ve just started the journey.”

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.