New report concludes that Texas will need a larger-than-predicted crop of health IT workers in order to make EHR progress.
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Texas will need an additional 10,000 health IT workers by 2013 to meet its goal of implementing and effectively using electronic health records (EHRs) at hospital and provider settings, according to a report by the Department of Health Information Management at Texas State University-San Marcos.
Texas authorities had previously estimated that the state would need 3,500 new health IT workers between 2010 and 2015, the deadline for Meaningful Use, but the report reveals that Texas has grossly underestimated the number of health IT workers it will require during this period.
Through interviews with 94 health IT employers about the competencies they need at their workplace, the vacancies they had in 2011, their current number of health IT workers, and the number of additional health IT employees they expect to hire in 2013, the poll reveals that Texas needs thousands more skilled IT workers. Health IT vendors and consultants were also interviewed for the report.
"I was stunned," said Susan Fenton, assistant professor and Texas HIT workforce project director, health information management, at Texas State University, in describing how she felt when she learned that Texas needs many more health IT workers than previously anticipated. "What happens today when you can't find the trained person you are seeking? You punt. Many people will train from inside, either on the job or by sending them back to school. Some may do without, which is very concerning when you start considering some of the potential adverse unintended consequences if health IT is not implemented correctly."
According to Fenton, the growing demand for health IT workers is the result of the federal government's incentive programs to spur the adoption of health IT, which got underway in 2009. With the fast pace of EHR implementation, a corresponding demand for qualified health IT workers to manage these systems has also grown.
"The big push to implement EHRs is, of course, a result of the ARRA-HITECH legislation. That is to say, the need [for health IT workers] has not really evolved over time naturally, but has arisen as a result of the Meaningful Use program," Fenton told InformationWeek Healthcare.
The recently completed HIT Employer Needs Assessment revealed that Texas healthcare providers in clinics and hospitals are conservatively estimated to need 9,500 HIT employees between now and 2013. Non-providers (EHR vendors and consultants) said they need an additional 500 HIT employees by 2013. Therefore, it is conservatively estimated that Texas will need an additional 10,000 HIT workers by 2013, the report concluded.
Health delivery organizations are looking for workers with experience in privacy and security, project management, data management, data mining, and data analytics. More than half of respondents (57%) said they need to either add staff (31%) or seek training for their staff (26%) related to data management.
Respondents also spoke about the barriers they face when attempting to hire workers. More than 60% said barriers include: accessing qualified candidates, retaining staff in a competitive market, lacking a well-defined health IT career ladder, and paying the high cost of qualified consultants.
To address the health IT workforce shortage, the report recommends that employers, educational providers, public organizations, and others implement a plan of action that includes developing common curriculum and training above and beyond the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology-funded continuing education and health information management roles. Stakeholders should also develop new models of education and employer collaboration to facilitate development of programs that meet demands of health IT employers.
Texas has one of the largest physician populations in the nation, with approximately 600 licensed hospitals. Texas state officials recognize that the emerging health IT industry is a key factor in advancing the state's economic development.
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