500 new health IT professionals who by 2015 will support not only the HMO's Colorado operations, but also its nationwide health IT infrastructure, according to Phil Fasano, executive vice president and CIO of Kaiser Permanente. The new hires will raise the number of IT people working for the Colorado organization to 700.
In an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare, Fasano said, "This workforce, including some of the people who work at Kaiser Permanente Colorado today, will get involved in some of our national initiatives. They'll service the organization everywhere we operate."
Kaiser, which now employs 6,000 IT professionals, decided to open a new health IT center in Colorado partly because of the highly skilled workforce in the state. "The demand for what we do at Kaiser continues to grow. Our ability to meet that demand requires great people," Fasano noted. "And Denver was an ideal place for us to consider expanding our capacity and leveraging the benefits of a wonderful lifestyle and community, as well as schools and colleges, and a very abundant set of skilled IT people who already live in that region."
[ What should be tops on your list of IT priorities for next year? See 5 Healthcare IT Resolutions For 2013. ]
That skill set is in high demand across the country. According to one report, 67% of hospitals are reporting shortages of IT staff members. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 21% increase in employment of medical records and health IT specialists between 2010 and 2020. But in order to meet the current demand, BLS says, health IT workforce would have to grow by 38%, representing 41,000 new professionals.
Kaiser will lease a building in Greenwood Village, Colo., a Denver suburb, to house its expanded IT department. The organization decided to lease rather than construct a new facility, Fasano said, to accelerate the hiring of the new workers.
The additional IT professionals will support not only Kaiser's EHR but also the tools it uses to support population health management. "We focus quite a bit of energy on clinical decision support tools that are directed at population care and chronic disease management and all the analytics that support that part of our organization," Fasano said. "We also offer many tools to our members at kp.org, as well as mobile applications that help members interact more easily with their physicians."
Kaiser Permanente's website, kp.org, is a Web portal for MyHealthManager, a personal health record that is used by 4 million of Kaiser's 9 million members. Through the PHR, Kaiser members are able to communicate with providers, get test results, and request appointments and prescription refills online, among other things.
The mobile applications, launched last January, are now available to all Kaiser members who have Android and iPhone smartphones. According to Fasano, these apps have been very popular, and Kaiser is continuing to expand its capabilities in this area.
Fasano offered a glimpse of how Kaiser's IT department will apply its resources in the next few years. "We'll continue to expand our digital health assets, including our mobile capabilities in the hands of our members. We'll be migrating a good deal of our workforce to mobile capabilities inside Kaiser Permanente, leveraging both mobility and advanced technologies, to serve their needs and support the growth of our membership. And we'll start to use advanced analytics even more than we do today. The abundance of information in our EHR will fuel that work, and we anticipate doing more of that in coming years."
Kaiser already employs a lot of IT professionals, Fasano noted. "[However,] it's a workforce that's highly leveraged at Kaiser Permanente. We create a lot of resources and capabilities that benefit our members in a very substantial way. And we are continuing to stay on the leading edge and to innovate toward the future."
Clinical, patient engagement, and consumer apps promise to re-energize healthcare. Also in the new, all-digital Mobile Power issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Comparative effectiveness research taps the IT toolbox to compare treatments to determine which ones are most effective. (Free registration required.)