Hospitals: Don’t Just Fatten Consultants, Train New Talent

I’m going to do some speculation here — when I researched this issue, hard numbers were, well, hard to find — but maybe you’ll find the following to be worth considering.

Right now, every statistic I read suggests that most CIOs feel unprepared to move through the stages of Meaningful Use.

In fact, in a survey by the estimable healthsystemCIO, 46 percent of hospital CIOs reported that they plan to spend a “significant amount” on consultants to meet MU goals, and a whopping 62 percent said that their institutions don’t have the right resources or expertise in place to complete IT projects on their own. Sounds ugly.

On the other hand, though, more than two thirds (69 percent) of respondents said that getting funding in-house for consultants won’t be any harder than securing funds for software investment. Read: the board and C-suite are nervous  enough to throw whatever resources they need at the Meaningful Use problem.

I’d argue that this is a rare opportunity for  chronically understaffed hospitals and CIOs on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  What if, given that the money pump is flowing, hospitals spent some of the money on consultants and some on consultants who can train the right people to be a permanent support.

After all, universities continue to pump out master’s prepared IT graduates, some of whom are aware of the problems hospitals face. There’s  bright young architects and experienced folks from other industries to consider, too.

And what about training physicians with an IT bent to come over to IT full time?  My own contacts suggest that this might work, given that there’s a definite subset of doctors who are geeky types comfortable with technology. (For some reason, this seems to be more common among middle-aged physicians than the old or young, but that might just be my own experiences.)

Even if you try a small pilot program, CIOs, I’d argue that it’d be difficult to lose under these circumstances. If it works, you squeeze more benefits out of your huge consulting investment AND get staffed up further. If it doesn’t, well, nobody expects every pilot project to work, right?

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.


  • Hospitals are afraid that money spent on training will be wasted, and they have good reason to be.

    The number of clinicians who claim they have computing “expertise” by virtue of having moderate competence with Microsoft Office is astounding. I’ve seen a senior trainer/RN ask, in all seriousness, why the IT staff didn’t just make the screen look different so it would be easier. That’s literally what she said – “make the screen look different”! The training for this supposed expert would have to start pretty much at the on-off switch for the PC, and hospitals don’t have the time or budget for that.

    On the opposite pole, hospitals are reluctant to train their existing IT staff because the one constant of conversation in every facility is if/when any given IT pro is going to make the jump to consulting. The HIT personnel shortage is persistent and severe, and no given hospital wants to become the training center for all their competitors in the area.

    Hospitals are up to their necks in people who can suggest how systems should be changed, but they are looking around in dark corners trying to find the people who actually know how to do it. The government HIT-PRO program creates more of the former, but none of the latter – there is no actual coding training in their programs; just government jargon and overview concepts.

    The combination of a person with real clinical experience AND the ability to write code, or troubleshoot a network, or query a database, or manage a data storage system, is as rare as hen’s teeth; those experts know their rarity, and know the value their skills have – so they work as consultants. And hospital’s don’t have the time or the money to increase their ranks, just to watch them go into business for themselves.

  • Good article Anne! It highlights a catch 22 in the health IT sector. There are a fair number of people who now have a Master’s in Informatics and unable to find work. All the job descriptions require 3+ years of implementations. How does one GET that experience??? People with Master’s degrees have very high level training.

    Your point about consultants is now becoming reality. Consultants are expensive and hospitals are now beginning to change their practices. A major NYC hospital is now hiring FTE’s at the entry level position (with degrees) so they can get rid of their consultants. A hospital can hire an FTE for less than half of what they pay consultants.

    I think internships or “shadowing” programs like the ones in nursing could help this shortage a great deal. Right now there is a bit too much whining about the perceived “lack of talent” and not enough action. I was at a hospital open house last week and 800 people responded for not that many positions available. There were lots of smart people there looking for work, including programmers.

    There is plenty of talent out there. Hospitals need to refine their HR departments and locate them.

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