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Report: Staffing Deficits

October 7, 2010
by Mark Hagland
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A New CHIME Survey Reveals Meaningful People Shortages

Even as CIOs and their colleagues in patient care organizations nationwide push ahead to try to achieve meaningful use under the requirements of the federal ARRA-HITECH (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/Health Information Technology for Electronic and Clinical Health Act) legislation, staffing shortages at hospital organizations could prove to be an Achilles’ heel on the journey ahead, if the results of a new survey are borne out by experience.

On Wednesday, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) released a survey during its CHIME10 Fall Forum conference, being held in a Phoenix suburb this week. According to the survey of CHIME members, CIOs said that IT staffing deficiencies will possibly (51 percent) or definitely (10 percent) affect their ability to implement an electronic health record (EHR) and move forward to achieve meaningful use. What’s more, more than 70 percent of respondents reported that their organizations lack the staff to implement clinical applications. The survey netted 182 CIO responses when it was carried out in September.

Upon release of the survey, Gary Barnes, CIO of the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Tex., and a CHIME board member, said, “The survey’s results underscore the fact that CIOs expect staffing shortages to affect their ability to implement these important clinical systems and help their organizations qualify to receive stimulus funding.”

What’s more, Richard Correll, president and CEO of CHIME, told Healthcare Informatics, “What’s not said in the survey is how well staffed these organizations were to begin with. One of our CIOs told me directly, ‘We’re never fully staffed up to begin with,’” Correll noted. “The element that most caught my attention and explained the surge in use of consulting firms is that 36 percent said they were going to use consultants,” he added. “Wow. That’s a boatload of consulting power. I thought that was very interesting.”

One of the key questions, Correll added, is what will happen if and when a large enough plurality of vendor companies see their EMR products certified in a short period of time. “If the vendors do get certified quickly, they’ll be coming at the hospitals saying, OK, we’re ready for CPOE, ready to upgrade you, and are you ready? If the vendors get certified and are ready to go,” Correll said, “some of the hospitals may find themselves unready” because of staffing deficits.

Interestingly, the survey found the largest number of open “clinical software positions” among the largest hospital organizations. CHIME leaders noted that while that finding might at first appear counterintuitive, smaller hospital organizations are much more likely to be found in non-competitive healthcare markets, while the largest hospital organizations operate in markets in which demand for currently employed clinical informaticists and others capable of leading clinical IT implementations is far greater.