Health IT Staff a Hot Commodity in Healthcare

March 5, 2013

Despite making gains with meaningful use and prepping for ICD-10, hospitals are still falling short in finding and keeping the right health IT staff available.

It's not just private practices that are struggling when it comes to finding and retaining skilled health IT workers at their offices.

In the 24th Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, comprised of 298 respondents (90 percent of which are from hospitals), the vast majority had already qualified for the federal government's meaningful use incentives and were confident in their preparedness for the ICD-10 coding transition, however, they were not as sure they would have the health IT staff needed to support their practices today and in the future.

"For the first time, our respondents indicated staffing as a primary barrier [to implementing health IT]," said Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research for the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

According to the Web-based survey, 21 percent of all respondents indicated their concern that they won't be able to secure IT staff for their facilities and 51 percent indicated that they planned to increase their IT staff in the coming 12 months. The survey indicated the greatest IT staffing need was in clinical application support (34 percent), followed by network/architecture support (21 percent), and clinical informatics (18 percent).

At a panel of chief information officers convened to discuss the results of the annual survey, hospital executives were asked what they were doing to deal with a lack of adequate health IT staff.

Mike Rozmus, a vice president and CIO at Harrison, Va.-based RMH Healthcare, said the facility has been "more creative" in how it is staffing its IT needs, reaching out to the community and educational institutions to "bring them into the fold and train them up" to get major IT projects deployed.

Milisa Rizer, MD, chief medical information officer at The Ohio State University, said their facility has actually lost health IT staff due to their expertise. In order to retain quality health IT staff, the university has improved its incentive program for these employees, "as they are such a valued commodity to us."

While health IT staffing remains a concern, the survey did show hospital success in achieving meaningful use through CMS' EHR incentive programs. Nearly two-thirds of health IT respondents indicated their facilities have already qualified for Stage 1 incentives and three-quarters felt they would qualify for Stage 2 next year.

More than half of respondents said they expected a return on their IT investment from Stage 1 to be $3 million or less, with 7 percent indicating a return of $10 million or more. "We'll watch that over the next couple of years," noted Horowitz, unsure where such a return would come from.

For Stage 2, three-quarters of respondents expected to achieve meaningful use in 2014 and 15 percent of respondents in 2015. While early to estimate, over half of respondents expected a return on investment of $3 million or less from their health IT outlay on Stage 2.

Other results from the annual survey include a feeling from respondents that health IT can affect patient care by improving clinical/quality outcomes, reducing medical errors, and/or helping to standardize care by allowing for the use of evidence-based medicine. Furthermore, clinicians were viewed as active participants in many aspects of health IT use at their organizations, selecting IT systems for use in their department and acting as "project champions."