Talent shortage hampers healthcare IT initiatives

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Frank Barresi has seen the negative IT job forecasts for 2014, and he's not buying them.

As CIO at Fallon Community Health Plan in Boston, Barresi says IT hiring in the healthcare industry couldn't be better.

"It has never been as volatile as I've seen it recently," he told FierceCIO.

That view is confirmed by research from PwC in its Global CEO Survey, which found that:

  • 34 percent of leaders in the healthcare industry say they "canceled or delayed a key strategic initiative" due to talent constraints
  • 25 percent said they had been "unable to innovate effectively"
  • 41 percent said their staffing expenses "rose more than expected"
  • 47 percent said that recruiting challenges have been more difficult

Driving the demand are a number of factors: the Affordable Care Act, other state and federal regulations, the electronic patient record and changes in payment disbursements, Barresi explains.

"The healthcare market is so extremely unpredictable and evolving," he added. But one thing he is sure of: 2014 is a good year to be working in, or seeking work in, healthcare IT.

To be fair, the hiring demand isn't just in IT. Healthcare overall is now projected to be one of the best job markets for the foreseeable future due to the above challenges.

Consider some projections by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • The healthcare sector is projected to need more than 5.6 million additional more jobs by 2010
  • The U.S. employment market lost approximately 7.5 million jobs during the recession, but will add approximately 20.5 million jobs through 2020.
  • Healthcare and social assistance will account for 25 percent of those new jobs.
  • Jobs in healthcare support occupations are expected to grow by 35 percent.
  • Jobs in personal care and services occupations are expected to grow by 27 percent.
  • Jobs for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations are expected to grow by 26 percent.

Regardless of where the jobs in healthcare are, they are all being driven by technology, Michele Sedney, senior director of recruitment at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, told FierceCIO

"There are tremendous opportunities in healthcare and the needs are constantly changing," says Sedney.

But don't think that there is an automatic welcome mat to your next IT job in healthcare. While the needs are changing, so are the expectations.

More than ever, IT professionals must bring a strong bedside manner to their role in healthcare, Sedney says. That is a requirement of every new hire at the healthcare provider, from tech support to physician assistant. Skill requirement number one is customer service.

"You still need to have strong professional skills, but you must also have customer service skills. Everything we do is about quality, satisfactory care and the majority of employees that touch on a patient experience are not physicians," Sedney explains.

Sedney is especially anxious to find skilled applications developers. A few years of experience is desired; background in healthcare or insurance is preferred; strong customer service and teamwork skills are mandatory.

Johns Hopkins is in the midst of implementing Epic, a records management system, which has been a multi-year effort still underway. The electronic patient record is at the heart of IT demands on healthcare organizations, and job applicants with experience with these systems are especially wanted.

Baltimore is a competitive IT job market, and Sedney says IT salaries also reflect that.

So what else is driving IT hiring? HealthITLeaders recently noted five positive trends that will see the creation of more IT jobs in 2014. As reported recently in FierceCIO, they are:

  • HITECH Act--The healthcare industry saw a four-fold increase in IT hiring in recent years, the article says. Half of the job growth is due to incentives contained in this act, which was the catalyst for an industry-wide transition to the electronic health record. IT job growth is expected to remain strong for jobs related to software installation, customization, building and training.
  • ICD-10--Last month's deadline to transition to ICD-10 means that hospitals and healthcare centers will need additional staff to help them meet the compliance standards related to ICD-10. This bodes well for programmers and trainers.
  • Revenue Cycle Management--Hospitals are swapping out old systems with new RCM systems. This requires specialists with financial, technical and project management experience.
  • Mobility--The wireless market in healthcare globally is expected to more than double in the next five years, the article notes. Two growth areas are remote patient monitoring and mobile health applications. Full-time employees and consultants are needed to help hospitals manage this new environment.
  • Analytics--Health analytics spending has also doubled, the article notes. This is fueled largely by the needs of insurance companies to obtain better healthcare data, but also for aiding hospitals in making care decisions. Hospitals will increasingly hire more data analytics professionals who have both IT and healthcare experience. Technology skills that will serve candidates well include data warehousing, business intelligence and report writing.

Read more:
- read the HealthcareITLeaders article

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