IT staffing shortages will put projects at risk and negatively impact healthcare organizations’ chances of implementing EHRs successfully, according to results of a recent CHIME survey.
CIOs who responded to the survey said IT staffing deficiencies will possibly (51 percent) or definitely (10 percent) affect their chances to implement an EHR and receive stimulus funding. The most glaring need for healthcare organizations is for trained personnel who can implement clinical records software.
Sue Schade, VP and CIO, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said working with local colleges will pay dividends down the road, but do little to help the staffing pain of today. “It’s a long-term investment — you’re not going to be able to get people through the training programs that are associated with ARRA funding if they are new to the workforce and have them be really effective in a short period of time.”
Mike Ward, SVP and CIO, Covenant Health, said staff augmentation services will likely yield little relief. “One of the first things I’ve done is try to go to the consulting market, but that also has been challenging. The vendors and consultants are going through the same challenges — there’s a lot of activity, high demand, and what I’m finding is it’s very difficult to find qualified resources. You can hire people, but they just don’t have the experience and the background.”
As such, the CHIME survey found more than 70 percent of respondents reported their organizations lack staff to implement clinical applications. Additionally, CIOs expressed growing concern about retaining current staff as pressures mount to quickly implement clinical systems. Some 76 percent of respondents said they were concerned about retaining current IT staff, while 24 percent said they had no such concerns.
George “Buddy” Hickman, EVP and CIO, Albany Medical Center, said retention strategies must be multi-faceted. “We did some things like surveying the workforce in IS to try to appreciate the sorts of things that would keep them satisfied in the roles they are in, and you’ll not be surprised to know that it’s a lot more than just money.”
Hickman said Albany dedicated an IS employee to departmental recruitment. “We also started doing more transfers inside of IS for the sake of career progression, at the same time looking outside of IS at people in clinical roles and saying, ‘Who has the competence to be able to move into some of the roles we’re doing.’ In addition we, how do I say this, kind of watched the talent in the region that are situated in other organizations to know who some of the better players are.”
And while Hickman’s watching the players in his region, Doug Abel, VP and CIO, Ann Arundel Health System, said local players are watching him. “(Retention) is one of our biggest challenges right now. We’ve been live for 10 months (on Epic) and we’ve got people with two-plus years of working on the project. In the region, we have two very large organizations that are starting up Epic projects, and where do you think they’re going to find people? We have the most marketable people in the region for Epic, and we’re running scared right now. We’re actually not only looking at market-based adjustments, we’re going to create a premium on top of that because we know our people are so marketable right now.”
CHIME surveyed its members in early September to assess the potential impact of staffing shortages on IT operations, particularly as organizations move to implement clinical systems to qualify for stimulus funding under the HITECH Act. A total of 182 CIOs responded to the survey, or about 13 percent of CHIME’s membership.
The lack of sufficient IT staffing for the healthcare industry is a widely acknowledged concern as hospitals attempt to rapidly implement clinical systems. Some estimates suggest there is a shortage of 50,000 qualified HIT personnel. Because only a small percentage of hospitals and professionals have such IT in place, many organizations are expected to try to implement the technology quickly in the next few years.
Hickman said it’s just this dynamic which makes staffing so difficult. “You can imagine that, in any particular region, most folks are doing it at the same time, so you have all those forces of everyone trying to grab for the talent pool.”