Demand exceeds supply for some health IT jobs

By Bernie Monegain
10:34 AM
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A recent brief from eHealth Initiative asserts more health IT job opportunities are available than qualified people to fill them, especially on the health data exchange front.

The report comes on the heels of a Feb. 1 update from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that reveals jobs in the healthcare sector will outpace growth in other sectors through 2020.

“Given the prevailing air of economic uncertainty in America and the unprecedented level of support for health information technology from the federal government, growth in health information systems may represent an untapped market for both job creation and market savings,” the brief states.
  
One way to address the shortage of workers with skills needed by health information exchanges (HIEs), the eHealth Initiative recommends that ONC work more closely with the industry to assess the exact IT skills that are sought by HIEs in order to strengthen the ONC’s workforce program.

“That information should serve as a basis to adjust the workforce program, so that graduates have the appropriate skills that are most in demand and can increase their value in the job market.
  
   The issue brief highlights four key findings.

  1. There are large numbers of new job opportunities available at organizations focused on exchanging healthcare data. A majority of the HIEs that responded to the survey have five or fewer full-time employees that are dedicated to the initiative. 37 of those HIEs that responded reported that they currently have between one to two job vacancies to fill, and 21 reported that they have three or more vacancies. Given the relatively small number of employees at many HIE organizations, these current vacancies can represent over half of an HIE’s workforce. This indicates that there is a large, unmet need for HIE employees
  2. Jobs remain open because there are not enough candidates with IT experience. A large number of HIE initiatives are facing a shortage of staff with IT experience, with more than 25 percent of respondents reporting that they are short on staff with IT experience. Crossing responses to this question with whether an HIE initiative planned to hire consultants in lieu of employees showed that 62 percent of initiatives who responded that they are currently facing shortages of IT staff planned to hire consultants. Clinical software implementation and support (with includes jobs such as: project managers, analysts, application coordinators, report writers, trainers, informatics staff and technical writers) was identified as they most difficult to staff skillset for all respondents and was also highlighted as the skillset in the highest demand.
  3. Organizations are using consultants to get the work done. Eighty-seven of the HIEs responded that to fill these open positions, they would hire consultants in lieu of full-time employees. Data from the survey indicates that neither the number of vacancies at an initiative nor the size of the initiative (measured by staff size) seems to have an effect on whether consultants are hired. Overall, initiatives reported that they were satisfied with the level of expertise provided by these consultants. Given a five-point rating scale, with 1 being “very satisfied” and 5 being “not satisfied”, the average rating was 1.96, with 57 initiatives reporting that they were very satisfied, and only four responding that they were not satisfied. Even though a number of the initiatives hired consultants, they generally did not spend more than $100,000 on consulting services in the last fiscal year. Of the responses to the survey, 73 spent $100,000 or less, and 51 of those spent $50,000 or less. However, 16 initiatives said that they spent over $500,000 in the last fiscal year on consulting services.
  4. Very few respondents have hired graduates from the ONC workforce development program. Even though a quarter of respondents are currently facing a shortage of staff with IT experience, only three initiatives responded that they had hired somebody from ONC’s Workforce Development Program, and most HIE initiatives are still unsure if they will hire staff from the program. Only about 15 percent of respondents report that they currently have plans to hire staff from the ONC program. However, for those HIEs facing a shortage of staff with IT experience, the workforce program may be a source of employees. Twenty-eight percent of these HIEs reported they had plans to hire graduates from the ONC program to fill staff shortages.