Hospital Health IT Use Climbs, But Will Health IT Worker Supply Keep Up?

This week,  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the number of hospitals using IT doubled over the last 24 months. Not coincidentally, she noted that HHS has handed out a truckload of incentive payments in recent times. More than 41,000 doctors and about 2,000 hospitals have gotten $3.1 billion in incentives.

As one might imagine, hospitals and practices are hiring on new professionals to manage all of this IT, ranging from EMR specialists to developers to “data exchange professionals” working on HIE-type projects. And looked at one way — from the federal government’s perspective, say — it’s great to hear that HIT investment is generating jobs.

The thing is, the health IT worker shortage everyone’s screaming about hasn’t gone away.  According to a recent brief from the eHealth Initiative, 25 percent of HIE initiatives have too few staffers in place with serious IT experience.  (My guess is that the number is at least that high in hospitals and even higher for mid-sized or smaller medical practices.)

The government has made some efforts to address the problem. As some readers may know, the Office of the National Coordinator’s Health IT Workforce Development program has workforce training programs in place to help meet the demand for health IT workers. The courses are being rolled out at nine universities and 82 community colleges. To date, apparently, more than 9,000 community college students have gotten health IT training, with 8,706 enrolled to train.

But even if these programs were turning out more than enough employees, it seems that employers aren’t yet confident about the quality of graduates. The same eHealth Initiative report concludes that very few HIEs are currently planning to hire or have hired workers from the workforce development program. The report doesn’t say why, but I’m guessing that it’s a matter of waiting to see how the program’s first few crops of grads work out.

This makes me wonder: Is there a way to turn out more health IT workers in a manner that would inspire the immediate urge to hire? For example, would a program routing Ivy League IT grads into health IT programs make a bigger dent? Would love to hear your thoughts.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


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  • I have been a technical analyst (troubleshooting) for a global software firm for the past 13 years ( OS , db admin, software glitches, code pages etc) and spent the previous 10 in IT operations center for Lockheed-Martin. You would think that with a background like mine that breaking into the HI/HIE field (interoperability etc) it would be easy, however I have been trying to break into this field for about a year now.(In the Philadelphia region with lots of Hospitals and services..) They all want clinical experience etc. I know there are some on-line universities that give some officially recognized accreditation (DeVry University) , but I want the right accreditation , or more focus on what my new employer wants. So far they want somebody already jump-started in both areas. Its been tough so far.
    I will certainly check out

  • The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.

  • I first used an EMR about 40 years ago as a teenage ER volunteer. I’ve been in IT – as a programmer, DBA and project leader for many years, even have an MBA in MIS. I’m fairly familiar with EHR’s since I’ve been observing them whenever I can over the last few years. I’m also highly experienced at IT and related sourcing. And, I’m going through one of the very few HealthIT programs in the State of New York – for Implementation Manager.

    When I look at ads for jobs for HealthIT workers, or get on hospital job sites, it is painfully clear that while there are lots and lots of jobs, every single one wants piles of very specific experience in this system or that system. Other experience just doesn’t count. And many roles require some sort of medical degree (which in some cases, at least, makes sense).

    So, we have immense demand, we have a rapidly increasing supply of people with great IT backgrounds and varying degrees of health related training. The Feds are paying a fortune to train people like me yet no one wants to hire us when we finish our training.

    Am I missing something here?

  • I thought I’d say a bit more on this topic. Now that I’m almost finished with the ONC based program, I have some real concerns about it. To start with, it’s too general in that people with heavy IT background get the same training for a role that people with no IT background get. That’s beyond strange – and wasteful. Instead of my training concentrating on EHR’s and related issues, it includes piles of project management and communication – something that IT people with project management background should already be well trained in, It is also very heavy in buzz words on side topics (like several different communication types). If I wasn’t making a point of learning as much about EHR’s as I could on the side, I wouldn’t consider myself ready to take on an EHR project. And as it is, I’d still prefer far more hands on time with several popular EHR’s of different types and vendors, plus hands on with configuration and customization so I could clearly understand what I’d be responsible for.

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