Securing, Digitizing Medical Records Remain Priorities in Healthcare IT

 
 
By Chris Gonsalves  |  Posted 2008-02-26
 
 
 

Healthcare technology professionals are scrambling to secure their systems with one in four saying they’ve been the victim of a data security breach in the past year, according to a new study.

Identity management and the more general “security technologies” are among the top technologies healthcare IT executives said they planned to implement for the first time in the next two years at 45 percent and 42 percent respectively, according to the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Leadership Survey.  43 percent also placed RFID technology rollouts among their near-term debuts.

Despite the high number of breaches, the HIMSS survey, sponsored by Cisco Systems, found that healthcare technologists have made significant investments in security and disaster recover technologies in the past year, a trend that will continue for the next two years. Firewalls are now in place at 98 percent of respondent’s facilities, while 83 percent are employing user access controls and logs to audit access to patient records, the survey found.

“Hand inhand with an emphasis on implementing healthcare technology there must be a focus on making this data secure,” said John Wade, HIMSS board chair.  “Consumers are concerned about the privacy of their health information, and this survey suggests that the industry is responding to those concerns.”

The healthcare industry will have to make those improvements even as it faces IT budget pressure from Medicare cutbacks and reductions in managed-care fees, according to the survey; 26 percent of respondents said lack of financial support was the biggest obstacle in IT implementations. Still, the continued push to digitize patient records and efforts to reduce medical errors should mean more IT jobs and spending in the sector in the coming year, the survey concluded. 75 percent said they expected their overall IT budgets to increase in the coming year; 68 percent said they'd increase staff.

The HIMSS study found that Electronic Medical Records ( EMR) initiatives will be the overall top priority for healthcare IT organizations through 2010. Roughly 44 percent of respondents said they now have a “fully operational” EMR system in place, up from 32 percent last year and just 24 percent in 2006. Some14 percent were still in the planning stages and 10 percent admitted they still have no EMR plans at all.

Among the other top priorities for the 307 respondents: 23 percent said they would implement systems to delivery of clinical knowledge to users in the next two years; 20 percent said that implementing or upgrading data warehousing and data mining would shift from a low priority to a high priority.

In a significant shift from last year, bar code technology was on the minds of just 35 percent of the survey respondents this year. Bar codes were far and away the top priority in last year’s survey with 74 percent saying they expected to implement the technology within two years. Speech recognition also took a hit, dropping to 36 percent this year from 55 percent in 2007.

“The survey should build confidence that healthcare providers are adopting new technologies to improve patient care and collaboration among care providers,” said Frances Dare, director of healthcare business solutions at Cisco, in a statement. “However, there is also a clear message that Medicare and Medicaid cuts impact IT investment.  With 26 percent indicating such cuts significantly impede their success, we still have work to do to ensure IT is recognized as the powerful enabler of efficiency and better patient care that it can be.”

De rigueur for a Cisco sponsored study, participants were also asked about their plans to implement unified communications technologies. While it officially managed just a sixth-place finish among top priorities with 19 percent, Cisco officials said the study results show that UC “is expected to become more of a priority … as organizations empower users to connect with each other and healthcare systems.”