EMR Workforce Shortage

One of the longest running conversations we’ve had on this site is the shortage of qualified EMR workers. It’s a discussion that quite frankly is difficult on many levels. On the one hand you have the hospitals and clinics who are suffering because they can’t find the right people to work on their EMR. On the other hand, you have the unemployed but experienced IT worker that’s trying to crack into the healthcare IT and EMR world.

This later group breaks my heart about once a week. There stories and efforts trying to find a job in healthcare IT are hard for me to take. Sadly, I haven’t figured out a way to help them beyond pointing them to our EMR and EHR Job board which appears in the sidebar of each of our sites. Otherwise, I’m not sure how to bridge the gap between the EHR workforce shortage that many people describe and those looking for jobs in the EHR world.

Although, I was reading something recently that opened my eyes a little bit to why I hear two sides of the same story. This is what I read:

There’s always a shortage of the perfect worker.

This is a challenging idea to consider, but an important one. There are only a handful of perfect workers out there for each situation, so of course there’s a shortage of that talent. Plus, it’s amazing how the perfect workers always seem to have work. Yes, there are a few exceptions and much of job hunting is about timing and location. However, I wonder if the EHR shortage that many describe is the lack of the perfect worker and not an actual EHR worker shortage.

I thought it would be interesting to have a poll to see what people think about the EMR workforce shortage. Is there one or isn’t there? Select your answer below.

Feel free to elaborate on your poll response in the comments.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

13 Comments

  • It seems as though there is a contradiction in the market. On one hand you hear there is not enough HIT talent out there to implement the new systems, but on the other hand you hear reports all the time of both vendors and hospitals laying off employees.

    Where is the truth?

    I can only speak to hospitals, as I visit them on a regular basis as part of my job and I have a long history working within them from all angles of the IT perspective.

    I have a few comments…

    There are a lot of people in HIT who are not that talented. They are able to fill a role, but many don’t have creative skill that permits them to solve problems in ways that are not outlined by their software vendor. Don’t get me wrong, there are some and when you find them they are the best of the talent pool regardless of their previous experiences.

    Secondly, and I know this from my own efforts trying to re-join the HIT workforce. Either HR Managers or those writing the job-descriptions give way too much credence in having direct experience with vendor X,Y,Z and product 1,2,3. More weight given to direct experience and less weight to skills like problem solving and thinking outside of the box.

    The most important skills for an HIT professional are…
    Creative Thinking
    Understanding of the business of healthcare
    Ability to communicate to all levels of the organization
    A good understand of how data is collected, stored, accessed and shared

    Those are my off-the-top thoughts on it…

  • Greg,
    Those are a couple of really good points. The idea of filling a role versus the creativity to solve problems is quite different and much harder to find. The second idea could be a major issue. Basically, that we don’t have a good way to filter candidates. It’s a hard job and I’m definitely not an expert in that area. I can see how many job selection processes cut out great candidates.

  • Greg Park, I agree with you. I am a long-standing IT/Telecom professional. I got my big break into healthcare, not only after preparing and passing two HITPro exams, but because a company (Intellect Resources) understood that intelligent people can be new to healthcare and still be successful HIT workers. I agree that the important skills for a HIT professional are:
    – Creative Thinking
    – Understanding of the business of healthcare
    – Ability to communicate to all levels of the organization
    – A good understand of how data is collected, stored, accessed and shared

    However, I must add one other important item to your list- “Be Prepared”.

  • I think this problem goes beyond merely EMR. I’ve noticed that along with the increased power of communication via the internet, it seems to be ever more difficult to get the attention of hiring managers. Ever since “Personnel” got renamed “Human Resources” (Think about that term!), they’ve acted as a Pretorian Guard — shielding the hiring manager from all but those “perfect” candidates, in their limited view.

    Oh, and when was the last time you were able to walk in to a potential employer off the street and be allowed to talk to a recruiter?

  • I think there are certain social skills required to work in a healthcare environment that a lot of technical workers lack. Working with physicians can be intimidating, and interacting with patients in the lobby or seeing a patient on a ventilator can be an emotional experience. It takes commitment and experience to be comfortable in an environment where there are people dying. This is the reason why healthcare professionals are well suited for the health IT market; they do not need to be taught these skills, they already have them and can easily integrate themselves into a patient care environment. I think this is also the reason why health care institutions tend to hole their technical staff up in the basement with no windows 🙂

    On the other side of the spectrum, it seems hard for some to remember that they are working in a hospital and that information systems do have a significant impact on patient care, and the staff end up treating their work as if they are in any other industry that does not require the focus and dedication necessary for health IT staff.

    Thoughts?

  • Mark,
    I think that is true of many technical people, but many of the project manager type of technical people are able to adapt well to these situations. Maybe part of the problem is that technical people automatically get grouped into the non-social group and healthcare workers get grouped into the social group. There are exceptions on both sides and that’s becoming more and more the case on the IT side.

    I do believe that it takes a unique person to be able to cross both sides of the chasm, but a lot more could if they were given the opportunity.

  • The only shortage there is is that of employers willing to train workers to become a part of their EHR workforce. If the employer would take the IT talented and connect them to their office/hospital EHR super users in paid internships, problem alleviated. Those internships are few and far between. The medical personnel also need to be placed with the IT saavy to gain entry into the EHR workforce. We need to share/exchange our talents! The Department of Unemployment should also put more of an effort into recruiting the unemployed into EHR programs/internships.

  • As an interesting side-note, how many of those government sponsored college programs intended to train the new HIT workforce are still in existence? I took one of those courses because it was free and I wanted to know what I didn’t know, and the program was a joke!

    Curriculum was devised between the college and guidelines from the government. Honestly, there were some interesting tidbits and it was nice to remind myself of the things I learned by experience, but I was dumbfounded to understand how this would prepare anyone for a job.

    I would add another bullet to my list (thank you Mark James), the ability to conduct yourself with decorum when encountering patients. That is so very important in this field, and it is a talent that is not exclusively held by clinical individuals.

  • I’m not a huge fan of the HealthIT program that ONC sponsored. It gave a tiny look at IT to current clinical workers, a useless review of the same to IT people, and a limited view of EHRs and things medical to IT people. It was mostly online, only gave a couple hours exposure to one EHR. And people I know in PMI tell me that they didn’t even get a nibble from employers. I got a couple nibbles, but that’s it. One major local institution has made it clear that IT people who are not clinicians need not apply, a very common attitude.

    And John, as you pointed out, lots of good IT people are unemployed or underemployed, yet have lots of experience that coudl be very good for HealthIT. But they just aren’t welcome. I’ve noted this to HIMSS on their FB page and web site, and suggested that they create a variation on CPHIMS that was for IT pros who learned enough about HealthIT to take the test but didn’t have the HealthIT experience. I also suggested that they lead the way in encouraging hospitals to create internships. Neither suggestion seemed to be very welcome.

    Ron

  • I got most of my IT experience working for a vendor. Hospital organizations, in general, wait too long to hire a ‘team’ for a particular project. They expect to hire people who can implement a big project on a short timeline. So they have to hire people who have that depth of experience and preferably exposure to a specific application. Ideally, the would build the EHR team over the entire duration of the project, beginning with kickoff and product selection.

  • To those who wrote already – great comments.

    I was an IT pro before jumping into EMR. I was hired because those who interviewed me were more interested in how I would approach issues than in a few key words in a resume. My second interview where I was hired was a series of sucker-punches, questions that had nothing to do with Clinical Informatics or IT. They have my respect.

    The greatest problem is that I face is that the highest level of management takes the line “we are non-profit, we can’t spend money freely…” when I ask for software or an additional programmer.

  • Aryeh,
    Good insight. I wonder how many times “non-profit” status is used as a convenient excuse to say no. Hospital non-profits are always walking an interesting line.

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