Guerra On Healthcare: E-Medical Record Pros In Short Supply - InformationWeek

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Healthcare // Electronic Health Records
07:20 AM
Anthony Guerra
Anthony Guerra

Guerra On Healthcare: E-Medical Record Pros In Short Supply

With deadlines looming, federal government tries to engineer the huge workforce needed to deploy EMR and other clinical systems.

If you listened closely enough, you could almost hear a "whoops" emanate from Washington after the initial post--ARRA (American Recovery and Reconstruction Act) euphoria wore off last fall. By that point, the healthcare IT industry had fully digested the massive pill and got a good sense of where the Meaningful Use bar would be set. Now the question on everyone's lips is, "Well, how are we actually going to do all that stuff?"

If people could get their minds around the financial aspects of paying for the software, they then came up against another obstacle. The people needed to implement electronic medical records and other advanced clinical systems just don't exist. I don't mean to say none of them exist, but the generally thrown--around estimates put the number at 50,000 and there just aren't that many EMR experts out there.

"Where are we going to find these people?" a CIO recently pleaded to me. A few minutes earlier, he'd described a "dream employee" he had recruited from the clinical side of the house, a woman who was an experienced nurse, had great administrative and interpersonal skills, and loved using IT to improve patient care.

She became the hospital's chief nursing informatics officer--a key role for CIOs in large organizations. "I need 10 more like her, and I'll tell you what, they don't exist," the CIO said.

Months later, I can see he was absolutely right, as other CIOs from around the industry--even those at the most sophisticated and well--off academic institutions--also struggle to find enough healthcare IT pros. They desperately need people to analyze clinician workflow, suggest new paradigms that jive with the software to be implemented, and customize technology to fit existing clinical patterns.

But my CIO buddy also hit on a workforce--augmentation strategy--one that has its advantages and limitations. By pilfering the clinical side of the house, he was certainly doing what works best for IT, as I've heard it said a thousand times that any CIO would rather turn a clinician into a tech--head, than teach a propeller--head how doctors work and, almost as important, think.

But going to that well one too many times can breed resentment as many clinical departments, especially nursing, have staffing challenges of their own. I know that my wife, who was a floor nurse for 10 years before becoming an nurse practitioner, was continually frustrated by staffing shortages that forced her to bear excessive patient loads.

So how to create the EMR--savvy health IT workforce of tomorrow that's actually needed today? Well, the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT is certainly throwing a lot of green at the problem. By my count, $118 million of taxpayer money is being used to devise training programs that teach HIT skills, and develop tests that verify the knowledge has been absorbed.

The question will soon become: have these programs produced people who can actually do the work that's needed in the trenches? Can they create the other 10 people that my CIO friend was pleading for? And, most importantly, can they do it all in the next two years, when they'll be most sorely needed?

Anthony Guerra is the founder and editor of, a site dedicated to serving the strategic information needs of healthcare CIOs. He can be reached at [email protected].

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