While unemployment continues to saturate the nation’s working classes, there has been one field within healthcare where the demand has been higher than the supply: health information technology. According to a survey by IT management firm Computer Economics, 61 percent of healthcare organizations are increasing health IT staff this year, the highest rate of any sector among the organizations surveyed.
Additionally, healthcare providers have grown their IT operational budgets by 3.1 percent since last year, according to Computer Economics, something several other sectors cannot say they are doing.
Martin Memorial Health Systems in Stuart, Fla., is one provider that has ramped up its health IT staffing and training efforts. Ed Collins, vice president and chief information officer of MMHS, says last year, the health system began updating its IT infrastructure in its transition to electronic health records with Epic, a health IT vendor. Situated in a market where 75 percent of its patients rely on Medicare, Mr. Collins knew MMHS had to put strong tools in place to receive the meaningful use stimulus money on time. Now, nearly one year later, he says they are ready to go live in December.
In the long term, hospitals and health systems will look to health IT to extract data to prove they are providing quality care, but in the short term, they need the personnel — both internal and external — to implement it all. Here are nine recommendations for hospital health IT staffing and training during EHR implementations.
1. Create a sense of urgency. Mr. Collins says showing the importance of these projects, specifically the EHR projects, should be displayed to vendors, hospital leadership and potential health IT staff members. After deciding last August to implement EHRs, MMHS needed a team of approximately 60 people to be staffed and trained by October to start the project. They completed the task with tight deadlines, and Mr. Collins says they actually have more than 70 positions dedicated to the project now.
Kimberly Bowden, president and CEO of 1st Solution USA, has seen the urgency firsthand. The federal government incentives were not a primary concern for all providers in 2009, but much has changed since last year. “In 2010, everyone started waking up and said, ‘This deadline is coming up fast, and we might be far behind,'” she says. “The last time there was this type of urgency was Y2K. But this deadline is worse because it’s affecting pocket books and [the hospitals’] reimbursements.”