Survey: CIOs still focused on IT adoption, but affected by Medicare cutbacks

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ORLANDO—While Medicare cutbacks and managed care fee reductions are creating uncertainty, the delivery of quality healthcare continues to drive investments in clinical technology, including electronic medical records (EMRs) and technologies that reduce medical errors, such as computerized provider order entry (CPOE), according to the 19th annual HIMSS Leadership survey, sponsored by Cisco.  

Stephen Lieber, CAE, president and CEO of HIMSS, said the society collected from 307 healthcare IT professionals from Nov. 20, 2007 and Jan. 20, 2008. Specifically, 52 percent of respondents were corporate CIOs, and another 24 percent were facility level CIOs. In the survey, there are 261 unique healthcare organizations, representing more than 700 hospitals.

Leiber said that a renewed focus on quality of care puts clinical systems, patient safety and EMR investments at top of IT priorities list. However, “the lack of financial support continues to be a barrier to new IT implementation.”

Of the respondents, 40 percent identified replacing/upgrading/implementing clinical information systems as their top IT priority today; followed by implementing technology to reduce medical errors/promoting patient (39 percent), and then implementing an EMR or its components (38 percent). Rounding out the top five IT priorities in the survey was connecting hospital IT with remote environments, such as physician’s office or private home (30 percent) and then business continuity and disaster recovery (27 percent).

Of the top five IT priorities over the next two years, the respondents most often selected implementing an EMR or components of EMR (26 percent), which also was chosen most frequently in last year’s survey (32 percent).

Leiber said that while it appears that there is an overall flat-lining or downturn in current IT priorities, it can be attributed to two reasons. He said that a few years ago the focus on IT spiked because it was so new. “What we’ve seen over multiple years, the top priorities that CIOs have faced, now it is part of the practice and seen as part of the general budget, so, they become less of a priority. We are reaching a level of maturation in the vendor community as well as in the hospitals, and there is not a specific emerging technology that stands above the rest, which is causing an immediate and overall focus.”

Leiber also attributed the leveling out in interest to an increase in specific choices that the survey presented.

Data breaches are driving further investments in identity management (45 percent) and RFID technology (43 percent) with one in four healthcare IT professionals acknowledging their organization suffered a security breach last year

John Wade, chair of HIMSS’ board of directors, said the most important part of the survey is that EMR adoption has seen tremendous progress. “We need to pick up the pace even more,” he said. “Approximately 10 percent of respondents over the past two years still have no plans to implement an EMR.”

While the survey found that 52 percent have no plans to participate in a regional health information organizations. However, “the findings suggest that if a RHIO exists in their area, then the facilities are more likely to join,” Wade said.

Frances Dare, director of healthcare business solutions at Cisco, said that “there is a clear message Medicare and Medicaid cuts impact IT investment. With 26 percent of respondents indicating such cuts significantly impede their success, we still have to work to do to ensure that IT is recognized as the powerful enabler of efficiency and better patient care that it can be.”

In regards to healthcare IT adoption, Dare said “the role of the federal government, specifically Medicare and Medicaid, cannot be underplayed. IT budgets are expected to decrease, mainly due to a decrease in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.”

“Healthcare in America is a financially constrained industry,” she added.

Wade commented that hospitals that are well-managed today will fare the rough market, despite smaller budgets, but the smaller, less well-run hospitals might not fare as well.