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Healthcare CIOs under increasing pressure in the US

Tuesday 19th October 2010

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Some 83% of senior IT executives at healthcare providers in the US expect to come under increasing pressure to ensure compliance, as more medical records are digitised. And over 60% says their functional role will become increasingly crucial to their organisation as the adoption of new IT accelerates. These are among the main findings of Under pressure: The changing role of the healthcare CIO, a new report published today by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The report is based on a survey of 100 senior IT executives at healthcare providers (principally hospital CIOs) across the US.
The research is published at a crucial time for healthcare IT, as the federal government pushes for greater digitisation of health records and the increased adoption of technology to replace inefficient paper-based systems that are still used by many providers. The role of the CIO at hospitals across the US will see correspondingly rapid change. This includes greater involvement in—and responsibility for—overall healthcare outcomes and compliance with new regulations, as well as driving operational efficiency.
The key findings of the report are as follows:
While regulation to drive IT adoption is broadly welcomed, many CIOs remain sceptical about government incentives. Some 77% of respondents expect to qualify for funds made available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to defray the cost of introducing electronic health records and other IT. But many expect the regulations tied to the incentives (and penalties) to bring considerable complications. Some 76% of survey respondents rate meeting “meaningful use” requirements (to qualify for the funding) as a high priority for the IT department, suggesting how time-consuming this will be.
Many CIOs expect digitisation of electronic health records will bring more pressure on them to ensure compliance. An overwhelming majority of respondents to the survey, some 83%, agree or strongly agree that greater use of electronic health records will put more pressure on CIOs to ensure compliance, and 71% say that data security to ensure compliance is a top priority when adopting new IT systems. This increased pressure is an inevitable corollary of making files easier to access through digitisation, and of stringent new rules that require information be both shared with more people on demand but also be protected from unauthorised access.
The CIO’s role is expected to become increasingly strategic as IT adoption accelerates… Many healthcare CIOs already occupy dramatically more strategic positions within their organisations than a decade ago. Currently, however, the survey shows only a minority are involved in boardroom discussions on any major strategic initiative. And over half the respondents (53%) say they spend 75% of their time on operations and just 25% on strategy. But a majority (62%) expect their role to become increasingly crucial to their organisation as the IT revolution gathers pace.
…but others may not see it that way; CIOs will have to educate the board. The realisation that IT will be increasingly crucial across all aspects of healthcare provision may not be appreciated by all stakeholders: some 70% of respondents in the survey say that IT is still regarded in their institutions principally as a support function rather than a strategic one. Successful CIOs therefore must not only become more strategic, they must also be seen to be more strategic—by educating senior management on what they are doing and what the benefits are.
CIOs need to secure the buy-in of clinical staff when planning and rolling out new IT. Changing the behaviour of those who use the technology—doctors, nurses and other staff—may be a greater challenge than managing board-level expectations. In the survey, 86% of respondents say they actively participate with clinical leaders in their organisations. This is increasingly important because CIOs need to secure clinical buy-in for new technologies, for instance by using senior physicians to champion technology among clinical teams and by demonstrating improved outcomes.
CIOs face big challenges in driving change. The most obvious obstacle is cost. In the survey, 62% of respondents rate high cost as the greatest barrier to adopting cutting-edge IT solutions, while 49% note the lack of funds for investment. Ensuring integration of systems, in order to enable the exchange of information, will also be a major challenge, with many CIOs sceptical of the benefits of health information exchanges. Many also cite the lack of IT staff with the right skill sets as a major challenge, with 24% of respondents ranking it in the top three barriers to the implementation of new IT systems.
About the survey
The Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 100 senior IT executives (principally CIOs, but also directors of information technology and other relevant titles) at healthcare providers across the US for this report. Of the respondents, 67% work at general or specialist hospitals, 9% at clinics, 8% at psychiatric hospitals and the remainder at intermediate facilities and other providers. Some 51% of respondents work at organisations with revenues of under US$500m annually, 34% from organisations with revenues of between US$500m and US$1bn, and the remainder over US$1bn.
EIU webcast
The findings of the research will be discussed in a webcast hosted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and available from from early November 2010. The webcast will feature a panel discussion including the author of the report, Neal McGrath, hosted by Debra D’Agostino, senior editor, Economist Intelligence Unit.

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