Healthcare News & Insights

Health IT skills shortage threatening important projects

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Many hospitals are concerned about finding qualified job applicants with the right health IT skills. Here’s how they’re changing their recruiting approaches to land top talent. 

In part due to government pressure, healthcare organizations are tackling some important health IT projects right now. In addition to the transition to electronic health records and the adoption of health information exchanges (HIEs), providers are also being tasked with converting to the new ICD-10 code set.

That requires some big changes to health IT systems, as well as general changes to hospitals’ and practices’ workflows. Concern from providers about being able to make the transition forced the government to delay the deadline multiple times, before settling — seemingly for good — on October, 2014.

While some observers still worry about whether that gives providers and other organizations enough time, especially consider many are making the switch to EHRs at the same time, there was some good news to be found in a recent report released by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Among the 298 hospitals surveyed by HIMSS, most (87%) said they expected to be ready for the ICD-10 transition before next year’s deadline.

In addition, the survey found:

  • 66% of hospitals have already quality for Stage 1 of meaningful use to receive EHR incentive payments
  • 75% expect to quality for Stage 2 meaningful use in 2014, and
  • 51% are already participating in at least one health information exchange.

More than half of hospitals looking for health IT skills

That good news doesn’t mean that hospitals aren’t facing any obstacles as they carry out their health IT plans. The biggest challenge providers will need to overcome to keep those projects on schedule: a health IT skills shortage and a lack of qualified applicants for health IT jobs.

EHRs, ICD-10 and HIEs all require a lot work from IT staff, and as a result more than half (51%) of survey respondents said their organization plans to add staff to the IT department over the next year. The greatest area of need is clinical application support, followed by network architecture and support and clinical informatics.

That was down a little bit from the 61% who said the same thing a year ago. However, as more health IT jobs have been created over the past few years, applicants with health IT skills have been harder to come by, and 21% of hospitals are worried that projects could be jeopardized due to the difficulty finding qualified staff.

A health IT skills shortage was cited as the biggest barrier to health IT adoption for the second year in a row, beating out other concerns, including:

  • A lack of financial support (cited by 15% of respondents), and
  • An inability to find vendors and products that satisfy their needs (13%).

Improve recruiting and retention: 3 keys

The findings in the HIMSS report are consistent with other research that has highlighted the fact that employees with the right health IT skills are difficult to find right now. For example, a recent CareerBuilder survey found that 23% of healthcare providers currently have open health IT jobs they’re struggling to fill.

In addition to difficulty finding new staff members, the demand for health IT skills means hospitals are also having a more difficult time hanging on to current members of the IT staff.

As a result, healthcare organizations are being forced to change their approach to recruiting and retention when it comes to health IT jobs, according to a recent ComputerWorld article. These are some examples of the steps providers are taking now to find and keep top health IT talent:

  1. Increasing workplace flexibility — Salary of course is important for recruiting and retention, but so are many low- or no-cost benefits. For health IT pros, one of the best benefits to offer is a flexible working environment — including the chance to work from home when possible. ComputerWorld cited the example of one hospital that took a survey of its staff and found that IT employees who were allowed to telecommute were more satisfied with their jobs than those that weren’t permitted to do so.
  2. Offer project management opportunities — Room to advance in a career is also a key benefit for health IT workers. While hospitals won’t be able to offer promotions to every valued employee, they can increase their top staff members’ responsibilities and give them valuable experience by letting them manage a project.
  3. Reach out to local schools — As health IT skills have become more valuable, colleges and universities have started to respond by offering degree programs in health IT. Hospitals can reach out to those schools and offer internships and schedule recruiting events in order to get access to the emerging talent pool as soon as possible.

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