Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Data Reiterates Coming Need for Health IT Workforce

A recent survey from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) provides additional data on the growing need for a skilled health IT workforce, with a particular need in "clinical software implementation and support staff." The survey was administered to healthcare CIOs in September, 2010 and had 182 respondents, representing 13% of CHIME's membership. A summary and full report of the survey are available.

The respondents came from a variety of hospital types and sizes, from large academic centers to small community hospitals. Interesting enough, the biggest needs, more than 20% staff shortages, were found at the big and small institution ends of the spectrum.

The highest proportion of open positions, as noted above, were in clinical software implementation and support staff, with 71% of CIOs reporting openings. The types of positions open included project managers, analysts, application coordinators, report writers, trainers, informatics staff, and technical staff. I really consider all of these positions to be in the realm of "informatics," or at least are positions for which informatics training would prepare one well.

One disappointing finding of the survey was half of the respondents reporting that they did not foresee additional spending on bolstering IT staff. On the other hand, most of the those organizations will be seeking their "meaningful use" incentive dollars, so hopefully their leadership can be convinced to invest in staff.

Healthcare organizations are not the only ones with needs and who are hiring. The EHR vendor Meditech reported that it will be hiring over 800 people in a new facility in Massachusetts. (Note to Oregon economic development leaders: There is opportunity for job creation in this field!)

These data are very consistent with a survey reported by HIMSS last spring, which had a total of 149 respondents. The survey found that 86% of organizations planned to hire additional IT staff in 2010. The areas respondents would most likely hire included implementation support specialists (55%), implementation managers (51%), and technical support (48%). The highest ranked area that organizations felt they lacked qualified candidates was clinical informatics (30%), followed by implementation expert (26%) and software maintenance expert (17%).

Finally, the consulting firm CSC, whose web site of reports on various aspects of meaningful use is one of my favorites, has produced a report on HIT workforce shortages. They summarize the research (including my study that used HIMSS Analytics data), describe the ONC workforce development programs, and discuss the implications to healthcare organizations. The latter include competition for qualified staff, inexperience among those newly trained, leading to lack of those with enough experience to assume leadership roles, attrition, and competition from other HIT tasks, such as ICD-10 implementation, HIPAA issues, and insurance exchanges.

The report's recommendations for overcoming these challenges is "expand, retain, and exploit," i.e., training and developing from within as well as exploring alternatives from outside the organization.

Of course, my advice is to hang tight, and hopefully the graduates from the newly funded ONC workforce development programs, including ours at OHSU, will start to fill the need soon.

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