Bridging The Healthcare IT Skills Gap

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Healthcare companies are scrambling to cope with a shortage of health IT professionals so that they can meet government requirements, consumer expectat...

Healthcare companies are scrambling to cope with a shortage of health IT professionals so that they can meet government requirements, consumer expectations and their own strategic goals, according to a new PwC report. Some organizations are even poaching IT talent from non-healthcare fields, the researchers found.

The report suggests that healthcare providers, insurance companies and drug and device firms are also competing with one another for talented IT professionals.

Across all these health industry categories, 62 percent of CEOs surveyed were concerned about the availability of IT skills, and 51 percent said their organizations were threatened by the speed of technological change. Seventy-seven percent said they anticipated changes in their talent strategies.

PwC cited a recent survey by the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) showing that 67 percent of healthcare providers are experiencing IT staff shortages. The shortage in skills is having an impact on the way CIOs run their departments – with new technology taking center stage all the time, they are having to employ staff who have a very in-depth knowledge.

CIOs have cited the need for specialists capable of implementing and supporting clinical applications, such as electronic health records (EHRs) and computerized provider order entry (CPOE) as the most pressing issue. The report also highlighted a need for employees with expertise in clinical informatics, followed by systems and data integration, and data statistics and analytics.

How transferrable are IT skills among the health sectors? “Configuring an EHR is a specialized skill for a hospital,” Edwards noted. “But when you're interested in sharing the data, or using it for secondary purposes, there's a lot of interest across all health sectors in how do we tap into this new source of data as an opportunity for our business. And that's causing people who have that analytics/data integration skill to be desired outside of provider settings.”

Health industry firms are also hiring IT analysts and statisticians from other fields, but Edwards noted that these people have a steep learning curve. Statisticians, he said, take three to six months to come up to speed on healthcare data, and they need extensive mentoring and support during that period.

The PwC survey confirmed CHIME's finding that many healthcare CIOs were hiring consultants to help fill the gaps in their IT ranks. Until recently, Edwards pointed out, the trend was for healthcare providers to outsource some or all of their IT work to consulting firms and staffing contractors; now many are bringing these functions in-house.

Another way to expand the talent pool, Edwards pointed out, is to retrain existing staff members who don't have IT backgrounds, “but are in strong operational roles and are willing to learn how to support some of these IT solutions.”

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