Health providers can't find, keep IT staff

Many hospitals don't expect any immediate ROI on their investments in electronic health systems

NEW ORLEANS -- Under pressure from federal regulators to implement electronic health systems, healthcare providers are struggling to find and keep a technology staff in what is the fastest growing IT sector in the U.S.

A Healthcare Information and Management Systems (HIMSS) survey of 298 senior IT executives at healthcare firms found that 21% fear they won't be able to find the tech staff needed to complete an e-health system, including a massive, new medical coding system to be deployed on new mobile technologies.

The results were announced at the HIMSS 2013 conference held here this week.

It was the second year in a row that respondents to an HIMSS survey listed staffing as the biggest barrier to implementing systems that meet new U.S. healthcare technology requirements.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents indicated that healthcare reform is the No. 1 business issue for them.

Other major barriers to implementing e-health systems were a lack of adequate financial support (15%), the inability of vendors to deliver needed products (13%), and difficulty in end-user acceptance (7%).

The survey found that 51% of respondents plan to increase IT staff in the next year, mostly personnel that can build clinical applications, such as computer physician order entry systems and electronic health records (EHR) systems. Staffers are also needed to build clinical applications (34%) and network and architecture support (21%).

Eighteen percent of respondents said clinical informatics expertise is their biggest need, and another 18% cited IT security knowledge.

Rounding out the top 10 were the need for staff for system integration tasks (14%), process/workflow, PC/server support and clinical transformation (each cited by 12% of respondents), and database administration, help desk and user training (each with 10%).

"We lost a fair amount of our IT staff because of the expertise they have," said Milisa Rizer, chief medical officer for Ohio State University. "Our leadership has been really great at looking at incentive packages because they've become such a valuable commodity to us."

Along with money, one of the most popular incentives for IT staff to stay on is workplace flexibility, or letting people work from home whenever possible. Rizer said a survey of Ohio State IT employees found that they're happier than IT staff prohibited from working at home.

Employees are more likely to stay on the job when there are opportunities to move into managerial and project-focused positions, Rizer said.

Mike Rozmus, CIO of Rockingham Memorial Hospital in Harrisonburg, Va., said his organization has been reaching out to local universities to recruit young talent.

Rozmus has also shifted his processes for training physicians, nurses and other staff from classroom and computer training to more hands-on assistance.

"We've learned a lot over the last five years about how to deploy technology initiatives. We've found that you can't just give them technology and expect them to be successful," Rozmus said. "We know we have to provide at-the-elbow support so that the frustration level of the clinicians is taken out at the early stages. We're really investing more in that than ever before."

Many HIMSS survey respondents don't expect a return on investments made to deploy EHRs that will allow them to aggregate patient data and streamline workflow.

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