Finding the Right IT Skills – Guidelines for Health IT Outsourcing

The following is a guest blog post by James Caw,marketing manager at Sebrio Consulting.
James Caw
With the HITECH Act, Meaningful Use and Accountable Care requiring more and more attention from HealthCare organisations throughout the United States, the demand for experienced software developers, integration experts and industry focused software companies is rapidly expanding.

In a season of record unemployment and shrinkage in the job market, these government driven programs have created a welcome and unique windfall of job opportunities for those with relevant HealthIT skills. Unfortunately with great demand, comes a rising cost and unfortunately a shortage of relevant skills. HealthCare organisations cannot meet their requirements from the limited available resources in the market.

I read an article just last week about US HealthCare job numbers. While it is still the fastest growing sector in the US, the writer showed that the distribution of job adverts had shifted considerably. No longer are nurses, doctors and clinicians at the top of the demand list. No, while those positions are still being advertised, the large majority of active posts are now software development, integration or IT support roles.

A recent discussion at a Boston based Health conference followed a similar line. The Health CIOs and Chief Medical Officers present described the pressure that interoperability and the demands of Meaningful Use and Accountable Care were placing on their resources. The EHR systems are installed and capable of delivering the required data, but the volume of interfaces, integrations and applications required was out of their reach without a large influx of additional IT skill.

This problem has been building for some time. A study published at the start of 2014 by PWC showed that, in 2013, as many as 34% of health care Chief Executives had delayed a significant strategic project or implementation due to insufficient IT staff resources.

While this may not seem too significant a number on first glance, add to this the compounded effect of the same problem across various states and over a number of years. The result is that many organisations are facing the same challenge and are missing their Meaningful Use and Accountable Care goals. And missing those goals has significant financial repercussions.

There is some relief, and many executives have begun to embrace an additional model of delivering solutions to their organisation. Outsourcing specialist projects not only cross-county, but also cross-continent. The HealthIT industry is a global one, with skill and knowledge spread out all over the world. Activating this external pool of resources is enabling many healthcare organisations to reach their goals on time and no longer delay those key strategic initiatives.

The challenge in outsourcing has always been finding experts with local knowledge, relevant industry exposure and practical working experience around messaging standards and compliance challenges. Solution providers do exist in this space and, as one of these, I’ve compiled some guidelines for selecting a potential partner for your HealthIT projects.

  • Look for longevity – A solutions provider must have a track record of service delivery. There are many companies who have been trading for under a year and have little or no relevant experience.
  • Check for commendations and/or memberships and certifications from a credible authority – A company with “InterSystems experience” and an “InterSystems Partner” are two very different claims. Find these claims and test them with the relevant company.
  • Ask for a Show Case document or Company Profile. – A services company should be able to tell you which projects they’ve worked on (assuming the work is not protected by a Non Disclosure Agreement).
  • Seek diverse skills within one company – The health information management market is incredibly diverse. A partner should understand integration, local standards and legal requirements in your market. A diverse array of technologies are in play, and a company with too narrow a focus may not make use of the best available technology to deliver a solution to your challenge.
  • Ask for references, and follow those up – In a world as complex as health care, there are many areas of expertise. Ask for credible references and then make sure to call or email the correct people at credible institutions and seek their honest opinion on the company in question.
  • Sign a non-disclosure agreement – This is general best practice. In HealthIT projects, the data is highly confidential and even the workflows can be a result of years of careful planning and experience. A non-disclosure is an important and vital part of the invitation to engage.
  • Start small – If your backlog is growing rapidly, you may be tempted place a large project with an identified external company. While there is no reason to assume that they cannot handle the task, there is wisdom in building the relationship and setting the foundation first. A small project which adds value to your organisation, such as a new interface build, a user interface, a minor integration or a messaging project, will introduce your solution provider to your internal team, work structure, policies and nuances and give you the opportunity to test their skill, capabilities, understanding and claims.
  • Build a relationship and grow gradually – Focus on communication and once you know you can work together successfully, gradually increase the significance of the projects. Now is the time to clear that backlog together.

The US has an immense shortage of HealthIT skill. A credible and practical solution is available and one of the solution providers out there may be the best fit for your organisation. As with all relationships, it’s a great tactic to start slowly. Test it first and if it doesn’t work out, say goodbye politely and seek that next engagement. Perhaps you’ll find, as we certainly have, partners that can meet your needs on an ongoing and mutually beneficial basis.

About James Caw
James Caw is the marketing manager at Sebrio Consulting, a well regarded software services company with 10 years of HealthIT experience. As the only InterSystems dual Technology and Implementation Partner in Southern Africa, Sebrio works remotely in the US and has been adding value to projects from minor integrations to state-wide health information systems. Sebrio is growing rapidly and can be found on Twitter @SebrioSoftware or at their website: