Is there a shortage of IT professionals in healthcare?
For the past decade, there have been numerous reports of shortages of IT professionals in many sectors. And what has happened is that this shortage has also trickled down into the healthcare profession. The one common reason for the acute shortage of IT professionals in healthcare is due to the demands made by the Affordable Care Act and Meaningful Use. The Act had mandated that by 2015, all healthcare institutions must have electronic medical records. In addition, all the billing and coding was to be electronic. The institutions were told to obtain the software for both internal and external use that could be used not only with healthcare plans but also with vendors and other businesses. The government has mandated time-frames to ensure that the electronic component of the healthcare system was installed
Unfortunately, many healthcare institutions were slow to install the electronic software and systems and now that Affordable Care Act is fully functional, there has been a rush to hire IT health professionals to install the systems so that the hospital be compliant with health plans. Medicare has sent out a warning to healthcare workers that there would be no reimbursements if the billing was not done electronically.
There is a complex situation that is definitely brewing and we have only touched the surface on what makes this shortage so significant…
Why the Shortage?
However, many healthcare institutions face problems; the first is that there are not enough IT health professionals around and secondly those that are around have little or no healthcare experience. The healthcare industry is in a rush to meet deadlines and would prefer IT professionals with healthcare experience. There are way too many nuances in the electronic health records that need people with no clinical experience may have difficulty understanding. Thirdly it is becoming evident that not many IT graduates venture into the healthcare field. Most of these graduates feel that healthcare is too rigid in its demands and is uncompromising, these graduates, unfortunately, do not seem to be aware that it is the state and federal demands on healthcare that brings on this rigid behavior. HIPPA laws demand the need for security of medical records and ensure that there are no leaks.
The one factor that does not seem related to the reduced number of IT professional in healthcare is salary. Healthcare IT professionals on average make a lot more than those working in computer related services, education, business, government legal and real estate professions. An average salary of a healthcare IT runs around $90k to $150K per year. However, this pay-scale does vary- with the bigger urban hospitals paying more than the smaller rural hospitals. However, hospitals which pay less often tend to make it up by offering great benefits and other compensation.
So how serious is the shortage of IT Health Professionals?
It is pretty acute and nearly 30% of healthcare managers have mentioned that they have had to back down on the projects or scale down because of lack of IT staff. In some cases, there has been a higher demand for IT professionals especially by those institutions who have delayed installing the mandatory electronic records keeping systems. Other managers have said that they lack the resources to hire IT staff.
What are the solutions?
Even though outsourcing is a potential option for project management and clinical application support, most healthcare executives do not favor outsourcing for fear of loss of medical data. Plus, unlike the 90s, outsourcing seems to have lost its fervor primarily because of difficulties in communication, time differences and the need to support American workers.
Another option is to have some type of in-house training to close the gap. This means asking the nurses and other allied healthcare professionals to undertake IT courses offered by professional associations and vendor. So far this idea has not been popular. There is a fear that such low tech way of taking on roles of IT may lead to inferior service and may lack quality. It is like asking an IT professional to act like a “doctor” by taking a weekend health course- not a great idea say the experts.
At the moment, some hospitals have brought in foreign IT health professionals to help with the shortages. But no one really knows what the long term solutions is. Giving out H1B visas has again not won any support from most Americans.
So for the time being, the IT health professional shortage will continue. Now that the Affordable Care Act and Meaningful Use is already fully implemented, there may be some redundancy in IT health professionals who may be available to go and work elsewhere for more money.
Below is an example of an organization who is harnessing Social Media to not only garnish excitement in the Healthcare IT field, educate the public on some nuances within the space, which in turn hopefully could be used to solicit more applicants…