IT Hiring in Health Care About to Heat up

Ann All

Yesterday I wrote about how IT salaries in sectors receiving federal stimulus funds, notably health care and education, are holding steady while other IT salaries are falling. (They are actually flat, according to Computerworld's 2009 Salary Survey, but reductions in bonuses and other benefits are eroding overall financial compensation. While financial analysts have been telling us "flat is the new up" during this recession, it feels a lot more like "flat is the new down" when it comes to our salaries.)


When IT Business Edge's Susan Hall spoke to Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, last month he told her health care is generating the most IT jobs from the federal stimulus package. Even before the downturn, the move to electronic medical records was beginning to create IT work in that field. Robert Half recently reported that health care organizations plan to increase IT hiring by 5 percent this quarter, while overall IT hiring will remain flat.


But that trickle of IT health care jobs may be about to become a flood, based on a Workforce Management story, "Preparing for an IT Talent Squeeze." (Free registration required.)


As IT Business Edge's Lora Bentley wrote in August, Title XIII of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the HITECH Act, allots $22 billion to "advance the use of health information technology" in the United States. Some $1.2 billion in grant money became available last month, specifically to help hospitals transition to electronic health records. Lots of money will likely be needed, as it's going to be a formidable challenge to move to electronic health records, as ITBE's Loraine Lawson outlined back in April.


According to the Workforce Management story, just 9 percent of U.S. hospitals use electronic records, and the feds will begin imposing financial penalties for laggards in 2015 by reducing Medicare reimbursements. It's obvious folks are having a hard time getting their arms around the scope of the task by the estimates for staff requirements: 41,000 to 200,000-plus jobs. The uncertain status of health care reform has hiring in a holding pattern, but experts interviewed in the story expect it will pick up in early 2010.


The article looks at Denver, where physician practices and other health care organizations have been computerizing medical records for several years. A Denver-based IT practice manager for recruiting specialist Hudson IT told Workforce Management:


>We've seen a lot of health care clients recently taking top talent in the IT field out here from other industries.


Among the positions that will be needed: systems administrators, database engineers and security architects. Security pros will be an especially hot commodity, because of the privacy and compliance concerns associated with sharing personal medical data across multiple systems.


Said Walt Zywiak, a principal researcher for Computer Sciences Corp.'s Healthcare Group:


When it [the hiring] does happen, I think there is going to be a tremendous shortage of people. There will be a tremendous competition to get staff out there to install systems.


Workforce Management doesn't mention it, but it will be interesting to see if U.S. companies turn to foreign labor, much as they did at the beginning of the decade to ensure their legacy systems were Y2K compliant.

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