A growing percentage of healthcare information systems professionals say they're frustrated with a lack of overall strategic focus in the upgrading and integration of computer systems.
The seventh annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society/Hewlett-Packard Leadership Survey uncovered that frustration among attendees of the HIMSS convention and exhibition last week in Atlanta. More than 1,200 attendees responded.
Officials offered a preliminary estimate of this year's total attendance at 14,000, up from 10,500 in 1995.
Three out of 10 respondents said their organizations lack overall strategic information systems plans and are focused instead on "tactical" projects. That's a higher degree of frustration than was picked up a year ago, when 19% indicated a lack of strategic focus.
Reinforcing the mood, 25% of this year's respondents said the need to develop a strategic plan was the greatest challenge facing telecommunications in healthcare.
The lack of a clear game plan is probably the result of quickly changing market forces and business priorities related to the twists and turns of managed-care imperatives, said Nancy Aldrich, president of HIMSS and of Telecommunications Management Corp., a Waltham, Mass.-based consulting firm.
"The hospital plans change so quickly that the (information systems) plan can't keep up with them," Aldrich said. And executives may not take the time to nail down a strategic information systems plan because they're swamped by day-to-day concerns, she said.
That also could describe the root of the problem for technical staffs. "I don't think they're frustrated, I think they're overwhelmed," Aldrich said. With much the same staffing levels as before, they're being asked to manage the day-to-day operations as well as "deal with something they've never done before" in their expanded responsibilities for bringing new technology and integration to those operations, she said.
And those new projects are well under way. During the past year, 40% of organizations have undertaken information technology infrastructure projects, and 18% have begun projects to integrate systems in an environment of multiple vendors, according the survey.
For 1996, the arena of information systems construction is expected to expand beyond traditional hospitals. The two greatest department-level automation priorities, according to the survey, are physicians' offices (35%) and outpatient clinics (15%), far outpacing inpatient settings such as critical-care, operating-room and medical/surgical units.