Hospital chief information officers cite strain in IT staff as top concern

A survey of chief information officers reveals they’re worried about the pressures on their IT staff.

Hospital and health systems leaders continue to battle with stress in their information technology department.

Roughly two out of three healthcare chief information officers (65%) cited the strain on their IT staff as their top burden, according to a survey by Stoltenberg Consulting. They cited “retaining and budgeting for qualified IT resources amid the great resignation” as their top challenge in information technology operations.

This is the 10th annual survey of CIOs, and the third year that staff strain landed as the top concern. While topping the list again, staff strain appears to be an even greater concern this year. A year ago, 55% of CIOs put it at the top.

Hospitals are facing a host of healthcare labor challenges, particularly in nursing, but chief information officers say they are also having trouble retaining key information technology staff.

“Hospitals are facing fierce competition for qualified IT staff,” Stoltenberg Consulting CEO Sheri Stoltenberg said in a press release accompanying the study. “Yet they are also tasked with uncovering further pandemic recovery cost savings.”

In addition, more than half of chief information officers (54%) surveyed said they wanted more flexible IT staffing that could be increased or reduced as needed to deal with project demands.

Hospitals are also seeing higher labor costs, even as they are enduring a brutal financial year. Hospitals are on track for their worst financial year in a long time, according to the Kaufman Hall consulting firm.

Hospital information technology departments are managing a host of challenges, including electronic health records, telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and cybersecurity.

Nearly two-thirds of health system CIOs (64%) also said their top financial priority is getting the most out of their existing IT purchases. It’s the second year that ranked as their top financial concern. Meanwhile, 13% of CIOs cited speeding up insurance and patient payments and claim denials as their second-ranked financial concern.

Many information technology departments are still scrambling to catch up on projects that were delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the survey. Almost half (43%) said their top IT-related expense involved upgrades to their electronic health record systems.

Chief information officers cited cybersecurity as their second highest budget area. Hospitals and health systems have been inundated with ransomware attacks. Hundreds of breaches of patient records have been reported this year.

Some information technology leaders and analysts have said hospitals need to invest more in cybersecurity. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) released a survey in January that found 40% of IT professionals said 6% or less of their budget was devoted to cybersecurity.

The Stoltenberg survey also asked chief information officers for their wish lists, and were able to offer open-ended responses. The top wishes: more automation, more experienced help agents certified in electronic health records, better tools to track calls, and more staffing to handle requests for help.

The firm conducted a virtual survey of healthcare chief information officers, all members of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

Stoltenberg, which offers IT support solutions for the healthcare industry, said hospitals should consider using a flexible support program to supplement their information technology operations.

“Utilizing a flexible IT support program curbs continuous onboarding cycles, eases pressure on existing staff for priority IT initiatives, and speeds up issue resolution to quickly return clinicians to patient care,” said Sheri Stoltenberg.