Fierce Q&A: Vanderbilt University Medical Center CIO on health IT's staffing shortage

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The difficulty in hiring health IT pros is only getting worse, according to a new survey from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. Nearly two-thirds of the 163 participating CIOs said they're experiencing shortages, compared with 59 percent who said so in 2010. And there's no relief in sight.

"Staff needs aren't likely to abate over the next couple of years, as CIOs continue to push to achieve Meaningful Use targets and switch to ICD-10 compliant applications," Randy McCleese, CIO at Morehead, Ky.-based St. Claire Regional Medical Center, said in a statement.

George McCulloch (pictured), deputy CIO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a CHIME fellow, spoke with FierceHealthIT about the survey and organizations' technology needs.

FierceHealthIT: Has the delay of ICD-10 combine with the political climate caused any hesitation on IT projects?

McCulloch: No. Pushing off ICD-10 was helpful, but not enough, with all the pressure that's on for Meaningful Use. Life would certainly be much worse if ICD-10 were still staring us in the face for this fall. So that's one of the few pleasant reprieves that we've gotten on the technology side, but there's still so much to do.

FHIT: So what did this survey tell you about the health IT hiring trends?

McCulloch: We're still behind in some areas--in almost all areas. For Meaningful Use, depending on the tools you use, the vendor you use, you need the whole range of people--business analysts, project managers, people who can configure your application your particular way, people who are going to make the technology happen under the cover--so it's really a big need across all the demands that this technology is pushing them to.

And given where we've been with computer physician order entry and other components involved with Meaningful Use and those dollars, it's a big stretch for most organizations to make this giant leap into this technology.

FHIT: Do you see IT staffing shortages limiting organizations' abilities to meet these deadlines?

McCulloch: I think people are shifting priorities. They're also trying to hire consultants at some cost to go do that. I think, by and large, they've scaled back things that are not Meaningful Use-related. They're saying, "I wanted to do this, but I can't." I think it's a combination of prioritizing their own internal goals and spending money on consultants that they wouldn't have wanted to do before.