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Best Hospital IT Departments 2016: Leaders reveal what it takes to build a great health IT shop

Our annual reader survey finds the keys to creating an environment where job satisfaction supports the long-term mission.

By Mike Miliard

What makes a hospital IT department a good place to work? Is it good bosses, who value your unique skills and treat you fairly? Good colleagues, willing to work together as a team toward a shared goal? Good pay and benefits? Good coffee in the break room?

For the 6th annual Healthcare IT New Best Hospital IT Departments, we heard from thousands of information technology workers at hospitals and health systems nationwide. The nominated IT teams were large (1100 staffers), small (3 staffers) and everything in between.

The people who took our 87-question survey were senior executives (CIO, CMIOs, etc.), directors of IT, clinical and systems analysts, technicians, help desk staff and others. They spanned ages from just-out-of-college to Medicare-eligible. Their hospitals ranged from Northern Maine to Southern California.

Despite this diversity, the winners shared some common feelings about their working environment. As they filled in detailed responses about their day-to-day job duties, departmental colleagues, direct supervisors, senior management, workplace culture, development and advancement opportunities, compensation and recognition, these IT staffers tended to rate their workplaces quite highly indeed.

But not just by picking high numbers on scales of 1 to 10. That’s easy. No, these folks spoke – overwhelmingly – with something far more substantial: their career paths. In response to the statement, “I plan to continue my career with this organization,” more than 88 percent either “agreed” or “agreed completely.”

Nearly 24 percent of respondents had been working for their current organization for between 10 and 20 years. Nearly 12 percent had been there for more than 20 years. That sort of loyalty doesn’t come from office potlucks and Yankee swaps.

Rather, it comes from finding value in the work – and in doing the work together.

What employees had to say
Healthcare IT News is taking a slightly different approach than in years past. Beyond just naming the winning departments – and capitalizing on the wisdom of their IT leaders to learn just what makes a satisfied technology shop run – we’re seeking a much deeper and more informative dive into the data gleaned from those thousands of employee feedback surveys.

On the topic of their day-to-day work, respondents said they appreciated departments that offered “support and autonomy to do the work that is asked of me.” Another noted that their IT team makes its employees “feel like they are of value, and very important to the department. The work we do is always appreciated.”

Still another said being equipped with the right tools was essential to helping the IT department do a very important job to the best of its ability, applauding the hospital for being on “the cutting edge of technology: The company believes in upgrading systems in order to stay ahead and (give) the patients the best possible results.”

Coworkers matter too. One survey taker was thankful for a workplace culture that “fosters a spirit of teamwork that extends beyond department lines. Another liked the fact that “a point is made to engage team members in all aspects of the work we do and grant them customer facing time so that they can develop working relationships with them.”

Keeping a focus on what all this technology means to patient care, and supporting each other – irrespective of job title – in the challenging endeavor of keeping IT optimized, looks to be a common factor in a happy department.

“The IT department is a team,” said one respondent. “From the CIO to the operations team, everyone is treated with respect. We are encouraged to do our job well and supported in every effort. The IT department is like a family.”

As for bosses, managers and direct supervisors, again, clarity and consistency of mission is key. “Our leadership team is clear with our goals and keeps us focused on ensuring we have the time and resources to focus completely on improving patient care,” said one staffer. Leadership “allows employees to work autonomously, trusts employees to get the work done, is supportive,” said another.

“There is complete transparency between senior leadership and the employees,” said a third. “Our expectations are clear and we know where to turn if we need help or direction. There is a great team mentality here, nobody is left to handle things alone.” Still another liked the fact that bosses “engage their employees toward the betterment of the department: We are involved in the decisions that are made,” given the “tools we need to exceed at our jobs and encouraged to push the boundaries toward excellence.”

Essential to employees finding value and reward in the work they do each day is the chance for ongoing training and professional development – and opportunities for advancement

“The department avails career tracks that fit the individual,” said one IT employee. “Leaders and non-leaders can excel and be recognized for their contributions and rise to the top of their craft. Those that prefer a more routine role are still valued for their contributions.

Another noted: “Our IT department is full of highly motivated, creative and intelligent individuals that work well as a team. Analysts and techs working with different applications and systems are always willing to share information and provide education. As a nurse in the IT department, I am learning the ropes.”

But perhaps the most reliable indicator of a happy, cooperative and successful department is a general workplace culture that recognizes that the mission-critical IT team is still only part of a larger and more significant goal: enablement of high-quality patient care.

“Our IT department goes out of its way to provide the best service to the hospital and its staff,” said an employee. “Everyone in my organization helps out equally and communicates openly. It’s a very open structure, meaning if we need assistance from another IT function we only need to pick up the phone.”

“Great communication and dedication to the mission,” said one poll-taker of what make their team work as part of the larger hospital organization. “It helps that a lot of the staff and management in the IT department have an extensive background as hospital clinicians.”

Perhaps the most common theme is the satisfaction that many survey respondents taking in serving clinicians nurses, physicians and patients.

“We continue to think ‘outside the box’ to develop new and innovative ways to provide quality patient care,” a poll-taker said. Another agreed: “It is a place that deeply cares about our patients and we are all striving to provide the best care possible. I find great satisfaction that we are all pulling in this same direction.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com