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Hospital IT departments have a lot on their proverbial plates these days, as they work to help their health systems manage the minutia of meaningful use attestations, deal with the nuts and bolts of the ICD-10 changeover (so far, so good!) and strengthen defenses against data security threats that only seem to get more complex and vexing by the minute. To name just a few.

From quality improvement initiatives to the shift toward value-based care, hospitals depend on technology in ways unthinkable even five or 10 years ago, and IT department employees are essential to this new paradigm – working in earnest each day to keep health systems' nerve centers up and running.

But it's a challenging job, to say the least: If it's not a behind-schedule or over-budget EHR go-live, it's another 800-page stack of weekend reading material from CMS or ONC.

So for the IT employees highlighted in Healthcare IT News' feature to still like their jobs so much, to feel so strongly about the value of what they do each day, says a lot about their workplace environments.

As Deette "Dee" Emon, chief information officer at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center puts it, "making people feel like they (are) part of something bigger than the IT department" makes a "huge difference" when it comes to employee morale and team esprit de corps.

Indeed, says Bernie Clement, CIO of the much smaller Thibodaux (Louisiana) Regional Medical Center – just 18 IT employees, compared with Wake Forest's 235 – keeping staff engaged with the day-to-day business of care delivery is key to ensuring they feel like more than "just another IT shop."

Thibodaux's staff appreciate being "able to see the impact they can have, " he says, to "feel like they're really involved in patient care."

How this year's winners were chosen
Nominations for Healthcare IT News' 2015 Best Hospital IT Departments opened on May 28 for readers to weigh in. The nomination period closed on June 30.

On July 7, each of these departments was then emailed a link to a secure online employee satisfaction survey, and told to distribute it to all department staff, including management, supervisors and contract employees.

To qualify to be named a Best Hospital IT Department, at least 50 percent of a given team's staffers must have completed the survey.

All told, more than 5, 500 hospital IT employees completed the 67-question poll, which gauged employees' opinions, on a scale of one-to-five, about seven topic categories:

  • Day-to-day work
  • IT work unit
  • Workplace culture
  • Senior management and organizational leadership
  • Professional development and advancement
  • Direct supervisor or manager
  • Compensation benefit and employee recognition

Of these finalists, eight qualified for the "Super" category (200+ IT employees); 11 for the "Large" category (76 to 199 employees); 17 for the "Medium" category (26-75 employees); and 29 for the "Small" category (25 or fewer employees).

Portland, Maine-based market research firm Critical Insights, as it has in years past, helped us crunch these numbers and interpret the results. It performed multivariate analyses to determine the Top 5 hospital IT departments in each size category, using a metric incorporating two measures:

1) A given hospital's performance on each of the study's focus areas, as well as the unique measures across those areas;
2) The relative importance of each of those individual indicators, and of the seven focus areas overall.

"Performance results were tabulated, then weighted according to the relative importance of each measured dimension and focus area to create an overall composite score for each hospital's IT department, " according to Critical Insights analysts. "This composite hospital-level score was then indexed to the average of all eligible hospitals (with 'average' being 100)."

(Note: After running through the tabulation process Healthcare IT News opted to recognize six winners in the medium category, rather than five.)

Other data from survey respondents across eligible departments of all size categories:

  • Of those willing to specify their gender: 38 percent were women, 48 percent were men
  • Reported age ranges: under 25 (1 percent); 25-34 (17 percent); 35-44 (27 percent); 45-54 (26 percent); 55-64 (15 percent); 65 or above (2 percent)
  • Employment tenure at a given hospital: two years or less (22 percent); three to five years (24 percent); six to 10 years (20 percent); 11 years or more (34 percent)
  • Ninety-three percent were full time employees, while 3 percent were part-time or contract and 4 percent didn't specify.
  • Of those who specified their job titles: Clinical/systems analyst (32 percent); IT manager/director/supervisor (16 percent); technician (11 percent); help desk (3 percent); financial analyst (2 percent); senior executive (VP. CIO, CMIO, etc.) 2 percent.

Secrets to success
When Healthcare IT News first launched the Best Hospital IT Departments feature in 2011, we sought not just to learn more about the factors that made a successful department tick, but to pay tribute to those teams on the front lines every day, working to help their hospitals through one of healthcare's most challenging and transformative eras.

What's the secret to a happy and productive workplace? That varies, of course. But some things hold true no matter where a hospital is, or whether it has a dozen IT staffers or a hundred.

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