IT staff deficits have CIOs strapped

By Erin McCann
03:10 PM

Chief information officers (CIOs) at healthcare organizations nationwide are confronted with growing challenges as they continue to see IT staff shortages, according to the findings of a CHIME survey released Thursday.

Officials say the survey highlights the urgent need for IT professionals in the industry, as more than two-thirds (67 percent) of industry CIOs reported deficits on their IT staffs, up from 59 percent in 2010.  

As in 2010, respondents said they are in need of specialists capable of implementing and supporting clinical applications, such as electronic health records (EHRs) 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.

[See also: 2012 HIMSS Survey: IT staffing shortage key barrier to meeting IT priorities.]

“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 in Morehead, Ky., and a CHIME board member. “Staff needs aren’t likely 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 who expressed concern that staffing challenges will negatively impact their organizations’ chances to receive HITECH stimulus fund payments dropped from 70 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2012.

Compared with 2010 survey results, more CIOs reported staff shortages this year. At academic medical centers, 82 percent of CIOs indicated unfilled positions; at community hospitals, some 59 percent; 69 percent at hospital/clinic models; and multi-hospital systems at 58 percent. (See graph above.)

Moreover, survey findings also show some 71 percent of respondents reporting vacancy rates of less than 10 percent in their IT departments.
 Survey respondents indicated that their strategies for dealing with shortages haven’t changed significantly 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.

[See also: Demand exceeds supply for some health IT jobs.]

Retention of IT staff is also a growing concern among CHIME members who responded to the surveys. Some 85 percent of respondents indicated they were worried about retaining IT staff, compared with only 76 percent of respondents in 2010. Officials say current concerns about retention may reflect apprehension over the increasing number of IT projects, which include EHRs, ICD-10 planning, health information exchange initiatives and other efforts surround IT and hospital operations.

“Retention is important because information systems need constant care and attention once they’re implemented,” said George McCulloch, deputy CIO at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn. “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 have a significant impact on staffing, with just 12 percent of CIOs reporting that they've hired program graduates.