The U.S. government's health IT stimulus programs are apparently driving many of these hospitals' IT plans.
Government regulatory matters, followed by financial incentives, were named as the top issues driving healthcare over the next two years, said the respondents to a survey conducted by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) last October and released Wednesday.
HIMSS' phone survey of 202 IT executives at small to mid-sized hospitals included 125 CIOs, CTOs, VPs and directors of IT in the U.S. and 77 in other countries, including Canada, the U.K., Germany, France and China.
The hospitals ranged from 100 to 400 beds and did not include U.S. hospitals run by the federal government, such as VA facilities.
About 76% of U.S. hospital IT executives surveyed said they planned to increase IT spending this year, while 17% expected no change in spending and only 8% predicted reduced budgets.
While this particular survey of small to mid-sized hospitals is new for HIMSS, an annual HIMSS leadership survey early last year found that only 55% of IT executives in a wider pool of U.S. hospitals of varying sizes expected to increase their budgets, said Jennifer Horowitz senior director at HIMSS Analytics, the research arm of HIMSS .
Overwhelming, hospitals in the U.S. are focused on an explosion in clinical data, including images, over the next two years.
Much of that data is expected to come from deployments of e-medical record systems as these hospitals race to participate in the U.S. federal government's $20 billion stimulus program that rewards healthcare providers for their meaningful use of health IT systems starting in 2011.
In the U.S., 55% of respondents named point-of-care systems as their top priority, followed by data exchange (14%), leveraging data (12%), infrastructure (10%), administrative efficiency (2%), with the rest answering "other" or "don't know."
Answers from hospital IT executives from other countries overall were similar to U.S. hospitals' priorities, although the biggest differences were in how other countries ranked priorities such data exchange (lower at 4%) and administrative efficiency (higher at 14%). Outside the U.S., 48% of hospital IT executives named point-of-care as their biggest IT priority.
Overall, U.S. hospitals have more complex IT hardware environments than hospitals in other countries. U.S. survey respondents have an average 75 servers in their hospitals and one-third of U.S hospitals have not yet begun to virtualize their data centers.
Often, there is one server per applications at U.S. hospitals, said Jamie Coffin, VP and general manager of Dell Computer's healthcare and life sciences business, which sponsored the HIMSS survey. As hospitals plan for the explosion of data and storage needs, virtualization can help the proliferation of multiple underutilized servers and storage devices and reduce costs, he said.