Health IT Jobs Hard To Fill

CIOs report they're finding it hard to recruit IT talent with the skills to work on EMRs and physician order entry systems.
While U.S. unemployment rate is still double digits, the health IT jobs sector is sizzling.

The government's health IT stimulus programs have spawned demand for some hard-to-find skills, as IT vendors scramble to position themselves in line for stimulus funds.

At the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS ) conference in Atlanta this week, some CIOs reported they're finding it hard to recruit needed talent and that they're seeing early signs of talent wars. "Our competitors are trying to hire our staff," said Curt Kwak, CIO of the western Washington state region of Providence Health & Services. While fending off poaching, Kwak's organization of 160 IT staffers is trying to add another dozen or so people this year, including clinical analysts and business analysts for various health IT projects. In some cases, Kwak will use contractors to help fill skills gaps while staff comes up to speed with needed new skills.

Other CIOs say it's also a challenge for their existing IT teams to keep up with new skills demands. "Talent of yesterday is useless unless they keep up," said Avery Cloud, CIO VP and CIO of New Hanover Health Network, a health care organization in Wilmington, NC. Cloud's organization is looking to hire this year another 10 or 11 people, including network engineers, for its 85-person IT team. "We push our staff to keep up and provide training opportunities," he said. If you rely too much on contract help to fill skills gaps, "the staff gets even further behind."

Talent recruiter Judy Kirby, president of national health IT recruiting firm Kirby Partners, said the biggest challenge faced by health IT organizations right now is "trying to figure out what talent they need for what they're trying to do." Some of the uncertainty is linked to the apprehension of moving forward with some health IT projects while healthcare providers wait for the government's final meaningful use rules, expected to be published later this spring.

In addition to an uptick in hiring by healthcare organizations, Kirby's firm sees "a lot of consulting firms also looking for expertise" in health IT systems such as electronic medical records and computerized physician order entry.

Meanwhile, the federal government is also spending millions of dollars on workforce training programs to help the nation to quickly develop the needed skills for EMR and other health IT projects. These workforce training programs, focused around fast-paced community colleges courses offering professional certificates, will help groom the more than 40,000 new health IT workers that the U.S. government projects will be needed, said Dr. David Blumenthal, national health IT coordinator during his keynote speech on Wednesday at HIMSS.

"A shortage of workers is a barrier to success," he said. The talent will be needed both by healthcare providers as well as by the vendors helping to implement these health IT systems, he said.

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