The annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference this week was the backdrop for the release of the society's annual leadership study, which more than anything highlighted the impact that federal stimulus funding is having on IT priorities in the health care sector.
Demonstrating "meaningful use" of electronic health care records by next year is now the No. 1 IT priority of the 398 IT professionals surveyed. And while the term "meaningful use" is open to some interpretation under the federal guidelines, the survey shows that a significant number are serious about making the appropriate levels of investment required to digitize medical records.
Another major IT-related initiative related to federal stimulus spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is the creation of health information exchanges. Although participation in these types of projects is far from universal, more than one-third of the participants said they are in the process of building some form of exchange. Whether those exchanges will span multiple health care providers or simply implement automation for existing suppliers and distributors is unknown, but most people seem to be betting that cross-provider networks won't be developed soon.
Overall, the study indicates that progress is being made, but perhaps not at the pace that most politicians and taxpayers would like. At this rate, it's likely to be 2012 before investments in electronic health records begin to pay off, while it might take longer to see the effects of HIE deployments.
The good news is that improving patient care, versus achieving financial stability, is once again the primary business objective of most of the IT professionals surveyed. And a significant percentage of health care IT professionals report a decline in the number of security breaches they have experienced.
But as always, in the health care sector, budgets for IT systems remain a challenge. About three-quarters of those surveyed said their IT budgets and staffing for 2010 will increase significantly. But at the same time, almost one-quarter identified a lack of financial support as the No. 1 barrier to implementing IT.