Healthcare Reform A Top Priority For IT Professionals

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imageImplementing healthcare reform and meeting stage 1 "meaningful use" requirements comprise the top two priorities of healthcare IT professionals, reveals a survey released earlier this week by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) at its annual meeting.

Of 326 healthcare IT professionals who participated in this year’s HIMSS Leadership Survey, 36% deemed healthcare reform the business issue with the most impact on healthcare. The respondents represented nearly 700 hospitals; 80% identified themselves as senior IT executives. Twenty-five percent of professionals polled—who represented nearly 700 hospitals and 80% of whom identified themselves as senior IT executives—said their key business entails achieving stage 1 meaningful use requirements established by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and to qualify to receive stimulus payments provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

According to Jennifer Horowitz, senior director of research at HIMSS Analytics, 81% of the respondents expect their organization to qualify for stage 1 meaningful use incentives in either 2011 or 2012. Nearly 70% are reportedly making additional investments in healthcare IT to qualify, an increase of almost 10% from the prior year's survey. About half have made purchases of $5 million or less as of February 1, 2011, on healthcare technology needed for stage 1-related healthcare equipment.

However, the survey shows, operating budgets are expected to increase in 2011, driven by the overall growth in the number of systems and technologies and additional staffing required for compliance with government regulations. Respondents also anticipate hiring additional IT staff in the next 12 months, with the greatest staffing needs centered on installing clinical applications and hiring clinical informaticists. A lack of financial support for information technology and a lack of staffing continue to be identified as barriers.

Among other survey findings, more than half of respondents had a fully operational electronic health record (EHR) system in at least one facility in their organization, but approximately 10% had not yet begun such an installation. Forty-four percent currently participate in a health information exchange (HIE); however, 31% have no plans to do so, despite the fact that 21% have HIE access. Internal security breaches comprise IT professionals’ key concern around data security, with 25% of respondents stating that their organizations had experienced a security breach during the past 12 months.

Moreover, in terms of organizational infrastructure enhancements, server environments and virtual services constitute respondents’ primary areas of focus this year. By contrast, just a few participants plan to zero in on cloud computing or the interoperability and integration of medical devices with healthcare IT.