Healthcare CIOs fear IT staffing shortages will affect EHR implementation

Oct. 7, 2010

ANN ARBOR, MI – OCTOBER 6, 2010 – IT staffing shortages will put projects at risk and negatively impact healthcare organizations’ chances of implementing electronic health records successfully, according to results of a recent survey by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) of healthcare IT executives.

Chief information officers (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. More than 70 percent of respondents reported that 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.

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. Because only a small percentage of hospitals and professionals have such information technology in place, many organizations are expected to try to implement the technology quickly in the next few years. Some estimates suggest there is a shortage of 50,000 qualified HIT personnel.

“The survey’s results underscore the fact that CIOs expect staffing shortages to affect their ability to implement these important clinical systems and help their organizations qualify to receive stimulus funding,” said Gary Barnes, FCHIME, CHCIO, who is the CIO for Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Texas, and a CHIME board member. “Industrywide, providers and vendors alike will be scrambling to identify those who can fill these positions or be quickly trained, so that EHRs can be put into widespread use.”

CIOs reported varying degrees of difficulty in filling IT staff positions. Surprisingly, respondents from smaller hospitals reported the lowest percentage of open positions. In general, the larger the healthcare organization, the greater the percentage of IT staff positions that were open.

By far, CIOs who responded to the survey said their biggest gaps on staff were for clinical software implementation and support staff. These types of positions represent project managers, analysts, application coordinators, report writers, trainers, informatics staff and technical writers. Some 71 percent of CIOs who responded to this question said they had open positions in clinical software implementation and support.

To meet immediate needs, CIOs reported that they were planning to use various strategies, and the use of third-party consultants was the most frequently mentioned strategy, listed by more than a third of respondents. CIOs also said they planned to hire from within their organizations and train those hires in healthcare IT, or were using recruiters to find qualified staff.

Respondents from half of the organizations said there will be little to no additional money spent on bolstering IT staff with 26 percent of responding CIOs indicating that they expect no additional budgeted spending in 2011, and 24 percent seeing budget increases of less than 5 percent.

Regarding staff retention, a large number of respondents indicated that their organizations were planning to use alternative activities and programs to keep current IT staff. Most commonly mentioned approaches included flexible work schedules and telecommuting, employee recognition programs and providing for staff education and development.

A full report of the survey may be accessed on the CHIME website at: