Increased stress causing hospital CIOs to rethink their job situations

Nearly a quarter of hospital CIOs are considering leaving their positions for a less stressful job within the next three years, according to a survey by Moreover, 55 percent agree with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka that with all of the projects being heaped on their plates, the position of CIO might eventually be untenable. Halamka made this remark in an earlier interview with, a blog written by former Healthcare Informatics Editor Anthony Guerra.

Meaningful Use, ICD-10 and, in some cases, accountable care organizations have made the CIO's job more difficult than ever. Fifty-five percent of the respondents believe that they need more senior IT staff, especially project managers.

Sixty-five percent have communicated their concerns to the hospital managers above them. In written comments, some of the respondents said that the managers don't understand that the initial investment in hardware and software is only the beginning of the ongoing investment in implementation and maintenance of complex applications. But other respondents noted that their hospitals are doing the best they can to give them the funds they need to do a good job.

In fact, HIMSS data shows that hospitals are increasing their investment in health IT. In HIMSS' 2011 Leadership Survey, released last February, 68 percent of the respondents--mostly hospital CIOs--said their facilities were increasing investments in IT to show Meaningful Use. Forty-six percent said their IT operating budget would increase this year, and 30 percent said it probably would increase.

Only 8 percent said that a lack of funding would be the biggest barrier to Meaningful Use, and 18 percent said it would be the most significant obstacle to implementing health IT projects. Seventeen percent identified a lack of staffing resources as the most major stumbling block to reaching IT goals.

Sixty-four percent of the respondents said they planned to increase their IT staff in 2011. Their biggest needs, however, were not for more senior staff, but for clinical application support staff and clinical informaticists.

Overall, the federal government says, there will be a need for 50,000 additional health IT workers to implement electronic health records in physician offices. That doesn't count all the people who will be needed to help hospitals get up to speed in multiple areas.

Yet the Administration's community college training program has graduated only 1,274 students so far. And, because many of these grads aren't prepared for jobs, CompTIA, the computer industry association, is offering them additional courses and the ability to get certified as healthcare IT technicians. But some observers say that even with the extra training, few are ready to fill hospital IT positions because they lack the practical and clinical experience required.

All of this adds up to a huge headache for CIOs--and one that is bound to grow worse over the next few years. Nevertheless, some of the respondents to the survey were optimistic about the future.

"I've been in the CIO role for 21 years and it has been one of constant change," a respondent wrote. "We started out defining the role, and I think we probably still are. We've moved from widget implementers to business, process, and change practitioners/experts. I think the position will continue to evolve. One thing for sure, if you are not a business leader, you may not survive long nor will you be effective."

Another CIO commented, "The role of the CIO should evolve, as should all executive roles, to meet the needs of the organization and industry. The role, as it is today, is different than it was 10 years ago and should be different 10 years from now." - Ken