Health systems are familiar with staff shortages and the difficulty of finding qualified employees. A report from Georgetown University projects the creation of 1.6 million job openings for nurses through 2020 – a year that the U.S. will face a shortfall of 193,000 nursing professionals.
The news for physicians is not positive either. A report by the Association of American Medical Colleges describes the growing shortage of physicians as the aging population places more demands on the healthcare industry. The AAMC report predicts a physician shortfall of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030.
However, healthcare staffing challenges are not just limited to clinical care givers. Just ask any healthcare IT director. A conversation with a hospital IT director at HIMSS18 underscored the challenge. He would find, hire and train qualified staff, but then lose them to other hospitals nearby that lure them away. This creates a never-ending cycle of recruit, hire and train that only adds to the director’s already complex job.
He is not alone. A HIMSS study reports that the top three challenges faced by healthcare IT executives are developing skills of current IT staff, recruiting qualified staff and retaining quality, experienced staff. Thirty-six percent of the healthcare organizations responding to the survey reported that they had to place projects on hold due to staffing challenges. In fact, 43 percent of health organizations reported IT vacancies.
As IT staffs shrink, the remaining staff members are overworked and overwhelmed as their responsibilities become more complex. The advent of new technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile health devices and machine learning offer healthcare organization access to more robust analytics and advanced capabilities. However, integrating and harmonizing these disparate systems requires time and expert knowledge that are in short supply in the hospital IT department. Add ever changing regulations and security compliance guidelines to the mix, and it is no wonder that IT professionals are burning out.
In a recent HIStalk, “Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne,” the concept of Moral Distress is discussed and now being extended to IT staff. Knowing the right thing to do but facing institutional constraints that make it impossible to pursue, creates stress that goes beyond merely being busy. IT professionals are often double-booked for meetings and try to juggle multiple issues at one time but get frustrated when they do not have the time or resources to manage IT systems and serve their in-house end users.
More healthcare IT professionals are thinking outside the box to find resources to support their staff and allow them to focus on critical issues within the hospital. The cloud is one option that allows healthcare organizations to improve capacity without investing in infrastructure. One survey shows that 35 percent of healthcare organizations house more than 50 percent of their data or infrastructure in the cloud.
The challenge is not just about housing data. Integration of all sources of data throughout the organization improves analytics, communications, clinical decision making and business insights. Managing that integration and harmonization to allow access for all users requires expertise that is difficult to sustain with an overworked IT team. At the same time, IT capital budgets are shrinking, making it difficult to continually update technology and train staff on new systems.
Forward-thinking IT executives are exploring a new business model for data integration and management – managed services. Rather than depleting a capital budget for integration infrastructure, a monthly fee that becomes part of the operation budget provides access to not only new capacity but also additional IT resources to supplement the existing team. Scalable architecture that can grow as the organization’s needs grow and integration experts who continually update systems to stay current on technology, data standards and security compliance requirements enhance and extend the capabilities of the IT department.
This approach frees the in-house IT staff to address day-to-day issues and evaluate adoption of new technologies to support organizational goals. Removing some of the responsibility for data management and integration also relieves some of the stressors that lead to Moral Distress and an inability to retain valuable employees.
A recent experience by a Liaison staff person shows how an overworked IT staff can slow progress. A crucial meeting was scheduled with a busy hospital team to discuss an implementation, but several key IT staff members were not at the meeting. It turned out that in an effort to manage staff time, IT employees were required to submit a ticket request to their department head in order to attend certain meetings. In this case, they were unable to attend because their requests were not approved.
While we all understand the need to prioritize responsibilities, the reality is that the partial group discussed the project – and then scheduled a second meeting to include the critical representatives from IT. Two meetings to accomplish what could have been covered in one.
Innovative IT leaders are willing to evaluate new business models that provide the most value for their organizations. Are you ready to tackle the IT staffing crisis in your organization?