The Search For Health IT Talent Heats Up

As health systems evolve, so too does health information technology.

For every challenge along the way, there is seemingly a solution that can be found in the ability to capture, analyze and transfer data in a digital manner. Accountable care organizations? You’ll need strong data analytics to make it work. Health insurance exchange? This requires an e-commerce platform that so far few in the industry actually have. Drug research? Better have cloud data capabilities to collaborate.

Across provider, pharma and payer organizations, new health strategies require an HIT backbone to spur change and create a foundation for success. That message isn’t lost on healthcare executives. Roughly 79% of CEOs anticipate an increase in technology investments this coming year, and 62% said they are concerned about the availability of a skilled workforce, according to a recent PwC survey.

In short, CEOs realize that executing business strategies will require more HIT human capital than is currently available. The data bears this out. According to the government, the U.S. will experience a shortage of about 50,000 health IT workers between 2010 and 2015.

When there is more demand than supply, people start to beg, borrow and steal to meet their needs. Seventy-seven percent of surveyed chief executives anticipate changes in how they recruit IT talent – and are considering borrowing from other industries including other health sectors, outsourcing, and developing more of their own employees to fill these needs. The competition for new talent will be especially fierce where providers, insurers and pharma companies have similar technical needs ,such as systems analysts, IT strategists, programmers, and privacy and security specialists.

So how can health organizations meet their IT talent demands when competition is coming from all sectors? PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) offers four innovative new strategies to fill today’s talent gap.

First, broaden your horizons. Filling all of the HIT needs will require organizations to look beyond the silos of healthcare. Remember, you are really competing for skilled employees across all industry sectors, so recruitment and compensation need to reflect this. Be prepared to train people about the intricacies of healthcare, and be prepared to offer salaries that are competitive with wider industry benchmarks.

Second, spend money and effort on training and retention. HIT employees want the opportunity to advance, and an environment that keeps satisfaction and motivation high. This can be accomplished by allowing employees to rotate through different jobs, work with mentors, and participate in training programs. HRI research found that the health sector is the least likely to offer employees the ability to try different organizational positions.

Third, develop succession plans. Not all middle managers are ready for leadership roles in HIT. Leadership requires a combination of technical understanding and a more visionary managerial style.  Sometimes this requires identifying and grooming workers outside of traditional IT-focused departments. HRI’s research found that 30% of insurers, for instance, do not have a succession plan for leadership positions.

Fourth, look for innovative partnerships. Filling the HIT talent gap requires new partnerships, including collaborations with local colleges and universities. Working with academia to build an employment pipeline is a two way street and requires industry to actually hire the new graduates and provide them with real world experience. This can also be accomplished through paid internships, which give students needed experience while also giving healthcare organizations a chance to see if they are a good fit prior to a more formal employment contract.

The HIT labor market will only get hotter. Health information technology is increasing through regulation, consumerism and new business requirements. Getting and keeping the right talent may require a far different strategy than what the industry is accustomed to. But health organizations that are successful will be at a distinct advantage.

— Benjamin Isgur is a director in the PwC Health Research Institute. 

Posted in Expert Opinions, Technology.