Healthcare organizations have historically lagged behind other industries in a number of technology areas, from patient records to social media. That’s all changing now, thanks to government regulation (See: Affordable Care Act) and disruptive market forces that have them rethinking consumer engagement.
The pace of change, however, has healthcare executives worried – about how to meet government mandates, about keeping up with the pace of change, about the shortage of staff needed to manage projects, support clinical applications and keep patient data safe.
Several recent surveys indicate that the chief concerns can be broken down into three general areas:
- Patient Data: The digitizing and management of records in compliance with government regulations.
- Security: The safekeeping and proper handling of all that new data.
- IT Staffing: The hiring and retention of enough qualified technology staff.
Taken together, these challenges represent an industry struggling to go it alone in an era of unprecedented technological change. Many are finding they need the help of a qualified managed IT services provider to bridge the gap and help control costs.
Problem 1: Patient Data
As we have written before on this blog, Electronic Health Records (EHR) are the big driver in healthcare technology reform. Surveys show that most healthcare CIOs support the effort to create EHRs, which they believe will help lead to better overall care, but they also list it as their chief concern.
This summer, four members of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) told a federal advisory committee in Washington, D.C., that the complexity of changes was compounded by the short time allowed for ramp-up.
Nearly 79 percent of all eligible hospitals and over 55 percent of eligible health professionals have received EHR incentive payments since 2011, but the real crunch comes next year, when Stage 2 implementation requires more than 500,000 doctors and hospitals to demonstrate “meaningful use” of health records.
CHIME is among groups that have called on Congress to delay Stage 2.
Problem 2: Security and Privacy
The new availability of electronic records raises the stakes for data protection.
In its 2013 CEO Survey, the audit and research firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC estimated that more than 21 million patient records had been exposed in 525 security breaches.
And while 71 percent of healthcare CEOs fear a cyber attack could hurt their business, the survey found that less than half have put robust safeguards in place to prevent a breach.
Beyond keeping out hacks, however, healthcare organizations have the added burden of compliance with HIPAA, the federal law protecting your privacy as a patient. The privacy problem is compounded by the spread of mobile devices.
A recent study of healthcare companies by the Ponemon Institute found an alarming 40 percent of respondents are unsure if their organizations’ rules on employee access and use of regulated data on mobile devices are HIPAA compliant. Talk about a CIO’s nightmare!
“It’s an environment that’s ripe with potential problems and vulnerabilities,” said Larry Ponemon, who conducted the study. “But at the same time, a lot of these devices aren’t necessarily designed to be secure.”
Problem No. 3: The Right Staffing
Surveys continue to show that healthcare IT is suffering from a full-blown shortage of qualified staff.
The area of greatest need, according to the inaugural Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society workforce study released in July, is clinical application support, followed by help desk and IT management.
The staffing problem has caused nearly half of respondents to put IT initiatives on hold, the survey found, and that can lead to other problems.
“Implications of delaying IT projects include allowing inefficiencies to continue in the organization and the risk of aging equipment breakdown,” the study said.
That’s the reason that approximately three-fourths of respondents have turned to managed IT services to help, notably in project management (28 percent) and clinical applications support (27 percent).