Health IT Talent Shortage Worsens, PWC Says

Healthcare companies start to look outside the industry and across healthcare sectors for experienced pros, finds PWC research.

Ken Terry, Contributor

March 14, 2013

4 Min Read

8 Health IT Certification Programs Offer Career Boost

8 Health IT Certification Programs Offer Career Boost

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Healthcare companies are scrambling to cope with a shortage of health IT professionals so that they can meet government requirements, consumer expectations and their own strategic goals, according to a new PwC report. Some organizations are even poaching IT talent from non-healthcare fields, the researchers found.

Healthcare providers, insurance companies and drug and device firms are also competing with each other for talented IT people, PwC noted. "The war for talent for some of these scarce roles is pretty fierce," John Edwards, a director in PwC's health industries practice, told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Across all these health industry categories, 62% of CEOs surveyed by PwC were concerned about the availability of IT skills, and 51% said their organizations were threatened by the speed of technological change. Seventy-seven percent said they anticipated changes in their talent strategies.

PwC cited a recent survey by the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) showing that 67% of healthcare providers are experiencing IT staff shortages. Fifty-nine percent of the responding CIOs said staffing challenges would negatively impact their ability to receive meaningful incentives.

[ Looking for a new job? See Health IT: How Not To Get Hired. ]

In the CHIME poll, three-quarters of the CIOs said their most pressing need was for specialists capable of implementing and supporting clinical applications, such as electronic health records (EHRs) and computerized provider order entry (CPOE). In PwC's survey of healthcare executives, the largest number (37%) said that the skill sets most needed to meet their organization's health IT goals were clinical informatics, followed by systems and data integration (28%), and data statistics and analytics (9%).

Providers prize clinical informatics, Edwards said, because a combination of clinical, technical and statistical skills is needed for population health management -- a burgeoning field in the era of value-based reimbursement.

The IT skills most in demand from insurance companies, PwC found, were systems and data integration (68%); data statistics and analytics (62%); technology and architecture support (52%); and clinical informatics (52%).

The report pointed out that insurance companies' data needs are changing as they move to support providers' efforts to form accountable care organizations (ACOs). Insurance executives said their technology-related offerings to providers include real-time analytics (66%), health and wellness (52%), ACO technologies (42%) and care management technologies (36%).

About 40% of drug and device companies said that health economics outcomes research and bioinformatics/data analytics will be important to them in the next three years. Thirty-five percent of pharma and device firms partner with clinical research organizations, and 31% collaborate with academic medical centers to reduce the cost of R&D. So they need to use analytics for collaboration and IT for more effective communication with external support staff.

How transferrable are IT skills among the health sectors? "Configuring an EHR is a specialized skill for a hospital," Edwards noted. "But when you're interested in sharing the data, or using it for secondary purposes, there's a lot of interest across all health sectors in how do we tap into this new source of data as an opportunity for our business. And that's causing people who have that analytics/data integration skill to be desired outside of provider settings."

Health industry firms are also hiring IT analysts and statisticians from other fields, but Edwards noted that these people have a steep learning curve. Statisticians, he said, take three to six months to come up to speed on healthcare data, and they need extensive mentoring and support during that period.

The PwC survey confirmed CHIME's finding that many healthcare CIOs were hiring consultants to help fill the gaps in their IT ranks. Until recently, Edwards pointed out, the trend was for healthcare providers to outsource some or all of their IT work to consulting firms and staffing contractors; now many are bringing these functions in-house.

"They're approaching their longtime contracting house or consultant and talking about employing some of those IT personnel, because they understand how important it is in their future business opportunities. That forces HR in the hospital systems or large provider groups to start managing talent not only on their clinical staff, but really thinking about their strategies around IT talent as well."

Another way to expand the talent pool, Edwards pointed out, is to retrain existing staff members who don't have IT backgrounds, "but are in strong operational roles and are willing to learn how to support some of these IT solutions."

Healthcare systems are more likely to do this, versus hiring graduates of community college health IT programs funded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), because those people rarely have healthcare experience. "They end up in one of the other [health industry] sectors or in the third-party [health IT] companies," Edwards said.

About the Author(s)

Ken Terry


Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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