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4 Things Health IT Leaders “Would Be” Thankful For

November 26, 2014
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Like many of you, every year at Thanksgiving dinner, my family, friends and I gather around the table and say one thing that we are thankful for before we begin to dig into the delicious food in front of us. Some are thankful for the meal in front of them, some for the company around them, and others for the roofs over their heads.

In the world of health IT, appreciation comes a little differently, and right now, it’s hard to imagine that CIOs are grateful for much in their professional lives. Simply stated, CIOs are overworked and burnt out in an era when the pressure is on them now more than ever. In fact, statistics say that a CIO’s responsibilities have increased, in terms of both scope and complexity, by 25 percent to 50 percent since the passage of HITECH. As such,  I can’t imagine there are too many things that CIOs are thankful for, as the burden seemingly increases by the day. So as we approach Thanksgiving 2014, here is a list of four things that healthcare IT leaders “would be” thankful for if they had them.

Some more meaningful use flexibility. Just recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) extended the deadline for hospitals to attest to meaningful use for the 2014 reporting year back one month, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 31. While this can be seen as another little bone the federal agency has thrown provider organizations, I see it as small potatoes in the big picture. Clearly, the industry wants—and needs—more substantial change. As of Nov. 1, only 840 hospitals have attested to meaningful use Stage 2 within the 2014 calendar timeframe, out of the 2,300-plus hospitals that had attested to Stage 1; and 11,478 physicians have attested to Stage 2 within the 2014 calendar timeframe. A shortened, 90-day reporting period rather than  the current 365-day reporting period for 2015 would be something the industry would be very thankful for. Heck, some IT leaders have even suggested that’s time to “declare MU a victory and move on.”

More money and more manpower. Technology adoption is expensive, and some healthcare organizations simply don’t have the resources. What’s more, there are not a ton of qualified IT professionals, as the pool of experts seems shallow. A Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society  (HIMSS) survey from last year found that 31 percent of healthcare organizations had to place IT initiatives on hold due to staffing shortages, while 43 percent cited the lack of a qualified talent pool as a challenge to appropriately meeting their staffing needs. And the year before that, a College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) CIO survey found that 67 percent of healthcare CIOs were reporting IT staff shortages. Consultant development programs such as this one could help solve the problem.

More clarity and guidance from the federal government. This is a general one, but it really applies to the plethora of federal mandates that are hitting the industry all at once. Earlier this month, HCI Editor-in-Chief wrote a great, in-depth blog highlighting the mass departures among top leadership at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). Specifically, the decision to move National Coordinator for Health IT, Karen DeSalvo, M.D., to the Ebola response team when the industry needs leadership and vision now, perhaps more than ever, was a highly questionable one.  Will DeSalvo come back to her post at ONC when she is done helping out with Ebola? Couldn’t you argue that the Ebola crisis in the U.S. is already past us? CHIME and HIMSS were two industry organizations that expressed similar concerns about this move. In a joint letter to Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell , they wrote that, “If Dr. DeSalvo is going to remain as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health with part-time duties in health IT, we emphasize the need to appoint new ONC leadership immediately that can lead the agency on the host of critical issues that must be addressed.”