IT Staff Shortages May Short Circuit Meaningful Use
Health IT staff retention is a growing concern for healthcare CIOs, even as they have trouble filling existing openings, reports College of Healthcare Information Management Executives poll.
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As providers implement electronic health records (EHRs) and prepare to meet Meaningful Use requirements to qualify for federal EHR incentive payments, a new poll from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) shows that 59% of CIOs believe IT staff shortages either will definitely or possibly affect their chances of qualifying for incentive payments. That's an improvement over 2010, however, when 70% said staff shortages would affect their ability to qualify for federal funds.
The 2012 CHIME CIO survey, which interviewed 163 CHIME members in July, also found that 67% of healthcare CIOs reported IT staff shortages, an increase from 59% of respondents who affirmed that they had IT staff shortages two years earlier.
A side-by-side comparison of surveys conducted in 2010 and 2012 suggests that many organizations are facing greater difficulties than two years ago in hiring and retaining IT staff not only to work on EHR projects, but also to establish health information exchanges, as well as plan for ICD-10 diagnostic code set conversion and other IT projects.
For example, in this year's survey, 85% of respondents indicated they were worried about retaining IT staff, compared with 76% of respondents in 2010. To help address staffing issues, 52% of respondents in the 2012 survey said their organizations will allocate more money to address health IT (HIT) staffing needs. However, 86% said they expect budget increases of less than 10% for IT staffing in 2013.
Furthermore, some 41% of respondents said they'll pay their current employees more, which could potentially soak up additional budget funds for IT staffing.
"The pressure to retain staff will impact salaries and therefore the cost to maintain HIT systems," Randy McCleese, CHIME board member and CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Ky., told InformationWeek Healthcare. "Many organizations are engaging staff throughout the organization to get them more involved in the implementation and use of HIT. This relieves some of the pressure on the IT technicians to allow them to perform the more critical tasks that keep systems operational."
The most pressing need, respondents said, is to hire specialists capable of implementing and supporting clinical applications, such as EHRs and computerized provider order entry (CPOE). In the 2012 poll, 74% of respondents indicated they are most in need of clinical software implementation and support staff, slightly up from 2010 when 70% said they needed workers with these skills.
To mitigate the impact of staff shortages, many CIOs said their top two strategies are to hire third party consultants (28%) or hire from within the organization and retain staff (20%).
"The shortages are real, but CIOs are finding ways to cope. That may be delaying other important projects, hiring consultants, etc.," George McCulloch, deputy CIO at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.
The latest survey also suggests that the federal government's efforts to train health IT workers under the Health IT Workforce Development Program has not succeeded in provided enough HIT workers to fill the gap.
According to the 2012 survey, 68% of respondents are aware of the community college and university-based training programs, which graduated 8,000 by July 2012. However, only 12% of CIOs reported that program graduates have been hired.
One reason that the Health IT Workforce Development Program may not have had the intended impact on health organizations is that there are so many positions to be filled that require a variety of skills, McCulloch asserted.
"The staffing needs are broad, from business analysts to programmers as well as database administrators and project managers. The training programs look like they are able to possibly quickly get people to do the soft areas more easily than the technical ones," McCulloch said in an interview.
"Even with that, healthcare processes are so variable that understanding healthcare is not an easy task and hard for staff new to the industry."
Funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the Workforce Development Program has provided five regional groups of 82 community colleges in all 50 states with $68 million in grants to develop or improve non-degree health IT training programs that can be completed in six months or less. Another nine grants totaling $32 million have been awarded to colleges and universities to quickly establish or expand health IT training programs for professional roles requiring training at the university level.