In just 12 months, the millennium bug, which renders computers unable to recognize the year-2000 date and beyond, has gone from an invisible issue to a crisis of hulking proportions among healthcare chief information officers, a new industry survey reveals.
Asked to name their three most important information system issues, or "hot buttons," CIOs of 341 integrated delivery systems made the millennium glitch a runaway favorite to worry about in 1998.
The CIOs were surveyed for an annual study of healthcare delivery systems by the Wakefield, Mass.-based healthcare division of the GartnerGroup, an information technology research and consulting firm.
The year-2000 issue outdistanced the next closest CIO concern by a 2-1 margin. But even more dramatic was the fact that it came out of nowhere -- a year earlier it wasn't mentioned even once as a top-three priority among 347 CIOs surveyed, said Dave Garets, research director for the GartnerGroup's healthcare unit.
That could be bad news for companies that were ramping up for an emerging hot market in clinical and integration-building computerization, said Matt Duncan, another healthcare research director with the GartnerGroup.
Surveys by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, MODERN HEALTHCARE and others had chronicled a growing urgency for such technology as well as a willingness to spend the many millions of dollars required to acquire and implement the innovations.
Last year's GartnerGroup survey was no different, identifying clinical data repositories and networkwide information-sharing improvements as the highest CIO priorities (See chart).
A solid second in this year's survey was clinical information systems, a class of computer applications that didn't make the top five a year ago.
Duncan predicted that repositories, electronic records and clinical information systems will take a back seat to the year-2000 problem. "Survival is a little bit higher priority than putting in a new clinical information system."
Information system vendors could have a brisk business in replacements of millennium-faulty software, but they'll have to conquer an implementation cycle that typically takes 12 to 18 months.
Complicating the picture is the likely replacement of thousands of medical devices, the extent of which won't be known or felt until the millennium status of microprocessor-driven equipment becomes clear (See cover story, p. 46).
Most effort and expense are focused on determining that status, but the real effect is going to be the cost of replacing equipment en masse, Duncan said. Much of that expense won't hit the information technology budget directly, but the need to raid the corporate budget could put a freeze on everything else that can wait, he said.
The silver lining is that corporate budgets for information systems are rising overall, according to the survey. On average, the healthcare systems polled have committed 2.8% of their total operating budget to information technology.