Despite Training Pipeline, Health IT Talent Crunch Called Acute

Susan Hall
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2011 Health Care IT Survey

The race is on for hospitals nationwide to deploy EMRs.

In a piece at InformationWeek, Marianne Kolbasuk McGee likens health IT pros to Cinderella: They've suddenly become the belle of the ball.

 

With the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) electronic health record incentive programs up and running, no longer is there just a carrot in the move toward digitized records, but also a stick, with penalties for those who fail to use EHRs by 2015. CIO.com points out that four key deadlines loom in the next six months.

 

The HITECH Act allotted more than $100 million for training in health IT, in university-based programs such as those offered by the University of Minnesota-led consortium, which I featured a few months ago, as well as community-college-based programs. Even so, a shortage of skilled health IT pros is expected. McGee points to some fairy dust sprinkled on that career path:

 

  • It topped the list of hot jobs produced by the University of California-San Diego.
  • The Office of National Coordinator for Health IT just released professional examinations to recognize professionals in six areas of health IT: clinician/practitioner consultant, implementation manager, implementation specialists, practice workflow and information management redesign specialist, technical/software support staff and trainer. Other certifications are available through private organizations.
  • InformationWeek's salary survey of 1,430 health IT professionals found that total cash compensation, including bonuses, for health IT staff increased 1.3 percent to a median of $80,000, while managers' median pay rose 2.3 percent to $105,000. Those raises were nearly double of those reported by IT pros across all industries. Meanwhile, in the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's Nursing Informatics Workforce Survey, the 660 respondents reported an average salary of $98,703, up 17 percent from 2007, and 42 percent from 2004.


 

According to those quoted in the CIO.com article, health organizations won't really benefit from the stimulus-funded training programs for a while, so the big talent crunch is taking place now. For many, that means turning to outside service providers.

 

It quotes John Halamka, a doctor and CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, describing the challenge this way:

I need an analyst who really understands how it is you can take a paper-based office environment and then move it to this new world of using electronic records because it isn't just digitizing paper. So they really have to understand how do you leverage the technology and change processes in order to move doctors from what they may have been doing for 30 years to a new world. You understand what the EHR does. You understand how tablets, printers and iPads are part of the equation.


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