Tackling Top Healthcare CIO Operational Challenges and Technology Advancement Opportunities  

Sheri Stoltenberg

By Sheri Stoltenberg, founder and CEO, Stoltenberg Consulting, Inc.

The expansion of artificial intelligence in healthcare has garnered significant industry hype over the past year, as health IT executives recognize its potential to transform healthcare delivery — and its efficiency. According to the recent Health IT Industry Outlook Survey, which highlights healthcare CIO strategic goals and pain points, 32% of hospital CIOs recognize AI and machine learning as the top health IT priority for the next year.

While not a new concept, the advancement of machine learning algorithms has accelerated generative AI’s potential to solve health system challenges, like provider shortages and clinical burnout. This has created a sense of urgency amongst healthcare organizations to rapidly implement and expand these technologies. However, IT departments — struggling with their own workforce challenges — bear heavy operational burden if resource and support strategies aren’t in place to shoulder these evolving tools and their growing user expectations.

Before expanding AI initiatives, hospitals and health systems must address operational barriers and process inefficiencies. Finding the proper balance between workforce optimization and automation is key in developing a successful IT support framework.

Securing qualified IT resources amid staffing shortages

Despite compounding IT team workload, talent strain remains a top obstacle for hospital and health system CIOs this year, with 44% of survey respondents highlighting “retaining and budgeting for qualified IT resources” as the greatest operational challenge.

To secure resources and strengthen support processes, IT executives must first evaluate their current support models, gauging their capacity to withstand project load, user experience needs, and budgetary pressures. Having identified support gaps, leaders can then consider workforce optimization initiatives — improving retention strategies, seeking staffing partnerships, or utilizing blended support frameworks — to ease talent strain.

Survey results also revealed that most healthcare CIOs (36%) deemed “flexible IT staffing support to ramp up or down with project demands” as the No. 1 area in which they desired stronger support. By moving beyond conventional staffing approaches, hospitals can develop adaptable IT programs, better equipped to support advancing consumer expectations, compete with new market entrants, and maintain new care models.

Optimizing existing IT purchases for greater ROI

Contending with high labor costs, IT leaders have become more selective in their purchasing decisions, with report results divulging that CIOs consider “getting the most out of existing IT purchases, like the EHR or ERP system” as their top (56%) financial goal in the next year. As executives seek additional cost-saving opportunities, current system vendors must deliver clear ROI.

To boost system value, many major EHR and application vendors have integrated generative AI into their software, delivering more efficient methods for patient messaging, scheduling, and clinical documentation. However, IT departments should prepare to play a critical role in cultivating user engagement and buy-in as they support AI expansion, training, and end-user inquiries. Healthcare leaders should prioritize IT team visibility and clinician involvement throughout this process, developing cross-departmental partnerships for meaningful input to maximize daily utilization. With new technologies often comes hesitancy, so thorough application documentation like knowledge base articles, communication like FAQ sheets, and user training sessions are pivotal for adoption and optimized use.

 Anticipating the continued advancement of AI, healthcare organizations should avoid getting caught up in industry buzz, and first, garner an effective IT support framework for both new and existing technologies.  While AI-based capabilities help alleviate workload pressure, they cannot succeed without skilled IT support resources and efficient operational processes already in place. By considering challenges highlighted in the HIT Industry Outlook Survey, hospitals can reassess technology support strategies — developing flexible support models, minimizing operational barriers, and promoting responsible technology adoption — for greater success in the next year.

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