Promoting patient safety top IT concern: study

Promoting patient safety while reducing medical errors continues to be the top reason for implementing information technology while a lack of financial and staffing resources continues to be the most significant barrier to implementation, according to the 18th annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society leadership survey released today.

Among the 360 healthcare IT leaders surveyed, 54% said reducing errors and promoting safety was their top IT priority in 2007, which is up from 50% in 2006. Next on the list was replacing or upgrading inpatient clinical systems at 48%, up from 29% last year. Added to the list of priorities this year was "business continuity and disaster recovery," which was named by 35% of the respondents as a priority.

The lack of adequate financial support was named the top barrier to IT implementation for the seventh-straight year. This was named by 20% of the respondents, compared with 18% in 2006. This was followed by lack of staffing, at 16% compared with 17% last year; and "vendors' inability to effectively deliver a product or service to satisfaction," at 15% up from 12% last year.

Barely on the radar screen were two areas the federal government has been focused on: a lack of common data standards, named by only 2% of respondents as a significant barrier; and "laws prohibiting data sharing (such as Stark)," which was named as a significant barrier by less than 1% of the respondents. HIMSS President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Lieber said during a news conference that the members of his organization had encouraged the federal government to reform Stark and maybe it was just too early to measure the effect of these efforts or that organizations haven't "aggressively" taken advantage of new opportunities that are now available.

"It's not necessarily a wrong place for government to focus," Lieber said. "I don't think we've seen the impact yet."

Privacy and security concerns are definitely on the public's mind these days, and, among those surveyed, 18% reported experiencing a security breach within the past six months. Also, internal breaches of security were named as the top data security concern by 57% of the respondents. In response to security concerns, 70% projected they were most likely to implement disaster-recovery technologies; 69% would use firewalls; 68%, user access controls; and 64% mentioned both the use of audit logs and single sign-ons as possible security measures.

HIMSS Board Chairman George Hickman noted "it's clear that providers will be adopting multiple measures."

The survey also recorded a decline in satisfaction with vendor performance. Last year, 8% of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with the performance of their IT vendors. This year, that figure was 0%. The number of "satisfied" respondents fell to 60% from 70%; "neutral" grew to 26% from 18%; "dissatisfied" grew to 14% from 4%; but "very dissatisfied" fell to 0% from 1%.

Hickman speculated that this may be a result of higher expectations coupled with the lack of "turnkey" products that are instantly ready to use, as well as the "creative tension" between vendors' marketing and delivery divisions with one side driving up business while the other struggles to keep up.

The survey also asked organizations to describe the status of their IT implementation, and 32% said they had a "fully operational system." This is up from 24% in 2006 and 18% in 2005.

"Installation begun" was the description used by 37% of the respondents, compared with 36% in 2006 and 42% in 2005.

HIMSS Analytics Director of Research Jennifer Horowitz noted as "a sign of progress" how the number of respondents answering "no plans yet" had dropped by more than 50% over the past three years. This year, 8% of respondents gave that answer compared with 12% in 2006 and 17% in 2005.

Among the survey participants, 37% said they worked for a healthcare system, 33% worked for a stand-alone hospital, and 16% said they worked at a hospital that was part of a multihospital system. The rest were split between ambulatory physician offices, long-term-care facilities, home health services, and mental/behavioral health operations.

The top title used by the respondents was "corporate chief information officer," at 41%. This was followed by "department head" at 19% and "facility CIO" at 16%. Only 1% had the title of "chief medical information officer."

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