Healthcare IT (Part 1 of 2): A Shortage of Workers

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We’ve heard much about the physician-shortage crisis across the country, but there’s another shortage that is almost as potent, especially when it comes to the progress healthcare reform hopes to make in a few short years.

Lucas Mearian of Computerworld reports, “The U.S. healthcare industry is facing an even more significant IT worker shortage than previously thought, and that shortage is slowing efforts to roll out electronic health systems.”

According to the article, the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) conducted a survey recently and found that “67 percent of healthcare CIOs are experiencing IT staff shortages, up from 59 percent in 2010.” This leaves 59 percent wondering if they’ll qualify for EHR incentives, since staff shortages are making it increasingly difficult to achieve the three-stage meaningful-use guidelines laid out by the government.

But it’s not just a shortage of workers, according to Daniel Garrett of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute, which conducted a thorough analysis of the situation. “It’s also a shortage of people with the skills to marry technological savvy with business strategy as healthcare becomes more connected, coordinated, and accountable. Despite billions of dollars spent investing in HIT, the lack of qualified professionals could slow progress toward quality and efficiency. The benefits of HIT will not be realized until organizations can ensure information is unlocked and integrated in a way to best inform critical business and clinical decision-making.”

PwC found that “75 percent of healthcare providers are now hiring new employees to support their IT priorities.” For those of you out there you like to track developing trends, PwC also found that “37 percent…believe clinical informatics will be the most important skill for achieving their IT priorities,” followed by systems and data-integration skills, technology and architecture support, and data statistics and analytics.

HIMSS recently interviewed 298 senior IT executives at healthcare firms, Mearian writes, and “found that 21 percent fear they won’t be able to find the tech staff needed to complete an e-health system.” Mearian adds that the federal pressure on these executives “to implement EHRs and a massive, new medical coding system known as ICD-10” is immense.

Health insurers are also in need of IT workers, with the increased industry consolidation of the past year, as are drug and device companies and the biopharma industry.

Garrett concluded, “The IT organization remains the critical connector to delivering real-time data and metrics to make smarter business decisions. Despite differing IT priorities, general IT staffing needs across the industry reflect a shared goal of improved health outcomes – particularly as payment shifts from a fee-for-service model that rewards value over volume.”

How is the IT staffing at your healthcare organization? What are some of your IT needs that have developed in the last year?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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