Y2K conversions cited as No. 1 priority in 1999

Staffing problems could be barrier

Although Senate investigators report that many health care facilities have a limited awareness of the year 2000 (Y2K) computer problem, health information technology professionals indicate otherwise.

According to the Tenth Annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Leadership Survey, 39% of the survey respondents say that implementing a Y2K conversion is the most important health information technology priority over the next 12 months. This percentage is triple the number who cited Y2K as their main priority last year.

Three-quarters of the respondents of the survey, which was sponsored by IBM in Somers, NY, also expect their health information technology (IT) budgets to increase over the coming year. This should help IT professionals implement their Y2K conversion plans; however, recruitment and retention of high-quality IT staff could be a barrier that might prevent these plans from being met on time.

The survey was completed by more than 1,100 senior executives, IT managers, operations and financial managers, and other provider organization professionals.

The survey was available to those professionals who attended the HIMSS annual meeting in Atlanta and IT professionals who participated from their office or home via a special site on the Web. Questions in the 1999 survey covered topics such as overall IT utilization, IT budgets, computer-based patient records, data security, Web applications, telemedicine, and emerging IT technologies.

Of the total respondents, 46% are members of Chicago-based HIMSS. Forty-eight percent of the survey respondents work for a multi-entity health care network with hospitals. Another 16% work at stand-alone hospitals. The remainder are employed at a wide variety of health care organizations including long-term care, home health care, group medical practices, and HMOs.

After Y2K conversion implementation, the second most frequently mentioned priority (18%) was integrating systems in a multivendor environment. Recruiting and retaining high-quality IT staff, which was last year’s top IT priority at 17%, dropped to 8% this year.

However, 23% of the 1999 survey takers say the difficulties involved in recruiting and retaining IT staff is the No. 1 barrier to successfully implementing IT. Fourteen percent of the respondents say both the lack of financial support and difficulty in proving IT quantifiable benefits were also significant implementation barriers.

Although lack of financial support for IT is cited as a significant barrier, 72% of health care organizations’ IT budgets are still expected to increase in the next 12 months. Forty-six percent of this year’s respondents report that their organizations’ IT budgets will definitely increase. Another 26% say that their budgets will probably increase. Only 5% report an expected decrease in IT budgets over the next 12 months. (For information on what hospitals expect to spend on Y2K compliance, see related story, at right.)

Here are other findings cited by the survey:

Outsourcing.

Eighty-one percent of this year’s respondents are outsourcing key IT functions, compared to 66% in 1998, a 23% increase. Applications support (15%) is the top outsourced function. At 12% of the responses each, other key functions include technical support, Web site support, and PC support.

Computer-based patient records.

Health care organizations in this country are making faster progress toward implementing computer-based patient records (CPRs) this year. Compared to only 2% in 1998, 10% of this year’s respondents say that their organizations have a fully operational CPR system in place. Twenty-four percent say that they have developed a CPR implementation plan, and 29% have begun to install a CPR system. Twenty-eight percent have not yet begun to plan for a CPR system.

Internal security threats.

When it comes to the security of computerized medical information, the respondents’ biggest concern (30%) continues to be internal breaches of security. This is similar to the 31% cited last year. Other security issues respondents mention include the limits of existing security technology (21%, up from 18% last year) and external breaches of security (14% in both 1998 and 1999).

Web applications.

Only 2% of this year’s respondents indicate that their organization does not have a Web page. For those who do, the top applications of the Web are organizational promotion (29% in both 1999 and 1998), employee recruitment (19%), and consumer health information (17%).

Web-based functions.

Fifteen percent of respondents report an on-line physician/provider directory (up from 6% in 1998) and 2% are conducting electronic vendor transactions via the Web, up from 1% last year.

Telehealth applications.

Medical image transmission is the No. 1 telehealth application in 1999, used by 24% of the survey respondents. Use of telehealth systems for management or business-related video conferences is reported by 19%, and professional continuing education applications are cited by 16% of the survey respondents. Patient interviews and consultation are mentioned by only 8%, patient education by 9%.

Sixteen percent of the respondents say their organizations are not currently using any telehealth applications.

HIPAA compliance.

When it comes to security requirement compliance for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, 15% of U.S. health care organizations have not started developing plans. However, 23% say their organizations have already assessed organizational compliance, 21% have document security policies and procedures, 17% have implemented these policies and procedures, and 12% have actually hired a security officer.

Wireless information appliances.

When asked which emerging information technologies their organizations are most likely to begin using in the next year, 20% of the survey respondents mentioned wireless information appliances, supplanting voice recognition from the top spot (16% this year). In 1998, wireless appliances are cited by 13% of the respondents and voice recognition by 31%.

The other top emerging technologies for the next year include Web-enabled business transactions (19%, up from 14% last year) and data mining (14%).