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Surveys say IT staff shortages on the rise

By Phil Colpas, Managing Editor H

ospitals’ need for qualified IT staff is increasing and isn’t expected to diminish any time soon, according to two recent studies. A College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) survey of chief information officers (CIOs) found that more than two-thirds (67 percent) are reporting staff shortages. This is up from a similar survey conducted by CHIME two years ago, when 59 percent of CIOs reported IT staff shortages.

“Even with two years of focused attention on implementing electronic health records (EHRs) at the nation’s hospitals in response to federal incentives, it’s clear that staffing is a significant concern for IT executives,” says Randy Mc- Cleese, vice president of information systems and CIO at St. Claire Regional Medical Center, 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.” A HEALTHeCAREERS Network report says the most in-demand healthcare IT jobs by sub-specialty are system analysts, HIT analysts and IT managers, all of which accounted for about 13 percent each of total healthcare IT job openings. According to the CHIME survey, three-quarters of respondents need specialists to implement and support clinical applications, such as EHRs and computerized provider order entry (CPOE). The HEALTHeCAREERS Network report corroborates this. “The healthcare IT field is maturing as more sophisticated types of healthcare IT jobs emerge,” the study states. “There is a growing focus on defining the system require- ments of next-generation systems that finally capitalize on the benefits of EMR implementation.”

The number of 2012 CHIME survey respondents who are concerned IT staffing shortages will impact their ability to receive HITECH stimulus funds dropped slightly, to 59 percent from 70 percent in 2010. But study participants worried about retaining IT staff increased during the same period, from 76 percent in 2010 to 85 percent in 2012.

Elevated concern over being able to keep qualified IT staffers from going elsewhere is no doubt fueled by the encroaching deadlines for an increasing number of important IT projects, including EHRs, ICD-10, HIE initiatives and meeting meaningful use. “Retention is important because information systems need constant care and attention once they’re implemented,” says George McCulloch, FCHIME, CHCIO, 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 CHIME survey also found that 68 percent of respondents are aware of the new national Heath IT Workforce Development program, developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to provide non-degree health IT training programs that can be completed in six months or less. As of July 2012, about 8,000 students have graduated from the program; yet just 12 percent of survey participants report that program gradu- ates have been hired.



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