The need for IT staff at the nation’s health organizations remains acute, according to the results of a recent survey of chief information officers, which found that more than two-thirds are reporting shortages on their staffs.
The survey, conducted by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), showed that staff shortages are continuing to trouble IT executives. The most recent survey, conducted in July, found a higher percentage of respondents (67 percent) reporting shortages than two years ago, when a similar CHIME survey found 59 percent of respondents reporting staffing shortages.
As in 2010, respondents say they are most in need of specialists capable of implementing and supporting clinical applications, such as electronic health records and computerized provider order entry. Some 74 percent of respondents to the CHIME survey indicated they most need clinical software implementation and support staff, similar to the 70 percent who said they needed clinical implementation and support staff in the 2010 survey.
“Even with two years of focused attention on implementing electronic health records at the nation’s hospitals, in response to federal incentives, it’s clear that staffing is a significant concern for IT executives,” said Randy McCleese, vice president of information systems and CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead, Ky., and a CHIME board member, in a statement. “Staff needs aren’t like to abate over the next couple years, as CIOs continue to push to achieve meaningful use targets and switch to ICD-10-compliant applications.”
The percentage of respondents to the 2012 CHIME CIO survey on IT staffing who expressed concern that staffing challenges will negatively impact their organizations’ chances to receive HITECH stimulus fund payments dropped slightly when compared with 2010. In responding to the 2012 survey, a total of 59 percent said shortages either would definitely or possibly affect chances of qualifying for funding, compared with a total of 70 percent who responded in 2010.
Compared with results of the 2010 survey, staff shortages remain largely similar for organization types or in various bed size categories. The most recent survey found that 71 percent of respondents reported vacancy rates of less than 10 percent in their IT departments.
Respondents to the 2012 survey indicated that their strategies for dealing with shortages haven’t changed much over the past two years – the approach most often mentioned is hiring third-party consultants, although a slightly lower percentage of respondents said they were using consultants in 2012.
Retention of IT staff is a growing concern among CHIME members who responded to the surveys. In 2012, 85 percent of respondents indicated they were worried about retaining IT staff, compared with only 76 percent of respondents in 2010. Current concerns about retention may reflect apprehension over the increasing number of IT projects, which include electronic health records, ICD-10 planning in advance of the eventual use of ICD-10 codes, health information exchange initiatives and other efforts that involve IT and impact hospital operations.
“Retention is important because information systems need constant care and attention once they’re implemented,” said George McCulloch, FCHIME, CHCIO, deputy CIO at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn, in a statement. “Clinical systems are complex, are regularly being updated, and new clinical staff must be trained to use them as well. Being able to retain IT staff familiar with an organization’s systems is crucial for CIOs.”
The 2012 survey also sought to assess the impact of the new national Health IT Workforce Development program, developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology for the purpose of providing non-degree health IT training programs that can be completed in six months or less. The 2012 survey found that 68 percent of respondents are aware of the community college and university-based training programs, which have graduated 8,000 by July 2012. However, the new training programs have yet to significantly impact staffing needs, with only 12 percent of responding CIOs reporting that program graduates have been hired.