Health IT leaders: If it's not one thing, it's another

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You know how stores start putting out Christmas decorations earlier and earlier each year--sometimes before Halloween is even past and gone? Used to drive me crazy. But if you can't beat them, you might as well join them, right? So our FierceHealthIT editors have already started looking ahead to 2013--and beyond.

In a series of special reports and original interviews, they've talked to health IT leaders about the unprecedented number of projects on their plates, from getting ready to implement ICD-10 (even with a deadline extension) to attesting to Meaningful Use to dealing with the staffing shortages that are plaguing the health technology industry.

Not surprisingly, Meaningful Use and ICD-10--and the fact that the timeline for both is on a collision course--remain among the top challenges for HIT leaders.

"By October 2013, I need to be running Meaningful Use Stage 2 certified software; I may be able to push back starting [that initiative] until Jan. 1, 2014. All the while, we'll be continuing our test and training plans for ICD-10," Stephen Stewart, CIO at Henry County Health Center in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, told FierceHealthIT editor Dan Bowman.

"Planning and early executions will be the challenge of 2013."

In the same article, Dave Holland, CIO at Southern Illinois Healthcare in Carbondale, Ill., said the biggest challenge in 2013 will be taking action with all of the data his organization has been able to gather via technology.

"We've implemented EHRs in the hospital and in the practices. We've achieved Meaningful Use," Holland told FierceHealthIT. "Our focus now is to get all of this data to become information. We need to tie processes together to improve patient flow throughout the system [not just one department or one encounter]."

Meanwhile, Lynne Thomas Gordon, CEO of the American Health Information Management Association, said the ICD-10 coding transition needs to come off the back burner.

"We all know that it is human nature to procrastinate. But now that a firm implementation deadline has been set, the entire healthcare community has the certainty it needs to continue to move forward with implementation, testing and training," she told FierceHealthIT.

And putting off ICD-10--or skipping over it and going directly to ICD-11--would be a mistake, she added.

"It is critical for coding initiatives to move in order," she said. It would likely be another decade before ICD-11 could be implemented in the U.S, and we simply can't wait another 10 years to replace the obsolete ICD-9 code set.  Not at a time when high-quality data is more important than ever to support signature healthcare initiatives such as meaningful use, value-based purchasing, payment reform, quality reporting and accountable care organizations."

Healthcare leaders have had to be nimble in the face of this deluge of initiatives, shifting their priorities and resources to meet regulatory mandates, capture incentive dollars and protect reimbursement revenue--all the while continuing to meet their long-term goals and mission.

"Whether it is clinical documentation improvement, decision support, data analytics, health information management, coding or revenue cycle, all of us need to adjust to a constantly changing environment," Gordon noted. "By being agile as we move from paper to the electronic health record, health information professionals can continue to provide valuable leadership in data integrity and governance."

But compounding all this is another challenge that's sure to continue into 2013: Health IT leaders are struggling to staff up for high-profile projects--never mind the day-to-day operations of a hospital IT department.

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.

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

"We're still behind in … almost all areas," he told FierceHealthIT's Susan Hall. "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."

Check out some of our recent special reports and original interviews (and stay tuned for more):

What's on your radar? Or, as the cliche goes: What keeps you up at night? Are you staffed up? Or desperately seeking? On top of Meaningful Use? Or scrambling to catch up? all set with ICD-10? Or is it boiling over on the back of the stove?

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences: feel free to share in the comments, below. - Gienna (@Gienna)