A major new US health IT survey suggests that new technology has significant potential to help mitigate the serious staff shortages faced by healthcare providers. The same survey also stressed the importance of re-evaluating workflow to realise the benefits from any IT implementation.

Electronic medical records, point of care technologies and mobile and wireless communications were identified as the technologies that would have the most impact on maximising the time staff devote to patient care.

The results of the survey, carried out by the US Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMMS) suggest that healthcare organisations should focus on re-evaluating their workflow process and harness technology to address growing staff shortages.

The HIMMS survey highlighted that even the best technology, when implemented on top of bad processes, will not have a positive effect on efficiency or productivity of the workforce. “It is important for organisations to focus on maximising what they have and build upon that instead of buying new technologies for which the organisation’s culture or people are not ready.”

The survey concluded: “Technology will not work if it is simply placed on top of an existing, poorly designed workflow.”

US healthcare providers are facing a growing staffing shortage, particularly among nurses. The Department of Health and Human Services predicts that there will be a shortfall of 800,000 registered nurses by 2020. The HIMMS survey examined views on how IT can help healthcare providers address this growing shortage by increasing productivity and automating clerical and administrative tasks.

Asked which technologies would have the most impact on maximising the time clinical staff are able to devote to patient care, 41% identified electronic medical records, 43% identified point of care technologies and 34% identified mobile communications and wireless technology.

Some 52% of respondents indicated that technology could have a great deal of impact on increasing worker efficiency, helping to address healthcare workforce shortages. Another 42% said technology would have some impact on the reduction of staff shortages. Only 2% of respondents said technology would not help address the issue.

When asked how to best address staffing shortages, 45% of those polled ranked re-evaluating workflow and processes as the number one priority. By comparison 25% said using technology alone would best maximise efficiency and productivity. Only 10% identified pay and benefits packages as the best way to address staffing shortages.