Sunday, October 7, 2012

Health IT Jobs Growth Outpacing Qualified People to Fill Them?

I recently wrote about the substantial growth in health information technology (HIT) employment that has exceeded all predictions. That is the good news. The less-good news is that healthcare organizations still face substantial challenges in meeting their HIT staffing needs. This was borne out by a recent survey of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), which assessed HIT workforce staffing issues and found that the shortfalls of needed HIT staff still persist [1]. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the growth in the use of HIT and overall employment as noted in my previous post.

A total of 163 out of CHIME's 1400+ members, mostly chief information officers (CIOs), responded to the survey during July, 2012. A similar survey had been administered in 2010. All sizes (from 0-99 to 1000+) and types (academic, community, and multi-hospital) of healthcare provider organizations responded.

About 67% of respondents reported that their organizations were experiencing shortages. This was compared with 59% in 2010. The highest category having unmet needs was academic centers, reported by 82%. About 12% of organizations reported 15% or more positions being open.

The survey asked about skills most often in demand, which included:
  • Clinical software implementation and support staff (e.g., EHR, CPOE) - 74%
  • Infrastructure staff - 47%
  • Business software implementation and support staff - 45%
About 71% said IT staff shortages could jeopardize an enterprise IT project, while 58% said they would definitely or possibly affect meeting meaningful use criteria for incentive funding. About 85% also expressed concerns about being able to retain current staff.

The survey also assessed awareness of the HIT Workforce Programs of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) [2]. Only 67% were aware of the ONC workforce programs, with 12% of those respondents reporting that they had hired graduates from them. (Unfortunately the survey did not distinguish knowledge of and hiring from community college versus university-based programs.)

The respondents reported their chief strategies for coping with IT staff shortages, which included:
  • Hiring third-party consultants - 28%
  • Hiring from within the organization and retraining - 20%
  • Other (multiple strategies) - 18%
  • Using recruiters to find and place qualified staff - 15%
  • Depending on HIT vendors to provide implementation staff - 8%
  • Other kinds of outsourcing - 6%
  • Developing a pipeline of students by collaborating with local colleges and universities - 2%
The most important attributes and competencies deemed to be needed by HIT professionals included:
  • Actual experience in a health IT shop
  • Clinical informatics experience
  • Education in IT theory and practice in a real-world setting
The most important attribute or competency that was least likely to be mentioned by respondents was:
  • Coding knowledge
  • Willingness to start “at the bottom” in an IT shop
  • Education in IT theory and practice in a classroom setting
Those surveyed were also asked what competencies or areas of knowledge were generally lacking in candidates being considered for IT staff positions. The most frequently mentioned were:
  • Lack of knowledge of healthcare and related IT applications
  • Lack of practical experience
  • Lack of experience with an organization’s system
  • Inability to interact successfully with front-line users
Overall, the CHIME survey demonstrates that adequate numbers of HIT professionals with appropriate skills are a bottleneck to HIT implementation in healthcare organizations. The highest unmet needs for staffing are in clinical areas, with individuals most sought after being those with healthcare and/or HIT experience, applied education in both theory and practice, and good people skills. Knowledge of ONC workforce programs is by no means universal, and even those with knowledge of the programs are hiring relatively few graduates, although the survey did not distinguish levels of knowledge or hiring from community college versus university-based programs. Clearly while job opportunities in HIT are strong, many organizations are experiencing challenges fulfilling their HIT hiring needs. There is also onus on educational programs to train individuals with adequate skills as quickly and efficiently as possible.


1. Anonymous (2012). Demand Persists for Experienced Health IT Staff. Ann Arbor, MI, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

2. Hersh, W. (2012). Update on the ONC for Health IT Workforce Development Program. HIMSS Clinical Informatics Insights. July, 2012.;src=cii20120709.

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