Health IT leaders face hiring woes

Retention, industry attraction among top concerns

U.S. healthcare providers nationwide have continued to experience difficulties with hiring and retaining experienced information technology professionals needed for the evolving healthcare environment, according to new research conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson. 

The Towers Watson survey, which included responses from more than 100 healthcare providers and hospitals, found that two-thirds (67 percent) are having difficulties attracting experienced IT workers, and 38 percent are reporting retention concerns. Officials say the staffing problems prove even greater for Epic-certified professionals, with nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the respondents reporting difficulty hiring these individuals, whose specialized skills are essential to meet new electronic medical record requirements under healthcare reform.

[See also: Health IT worker shortage looms.]

“Hospitals have an urgent need for experienced, highly-skilled IT professionals to ensure they can meet new government requirements and qualify for financial incentives,” said Heidi Toppel, a senior rewards consultant in Towers Watson’s hospital industry group, in a press statement. “In addition, the ability to share patient care information and records accurately and seamlessly with a range of other providers will be essential to achieving patient satisfaction and quality-of-care outcomes in a more integrated approach to healthcare delivery.”

George McCulloch, deputy CIO at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Healthcare IT News in an October interview that one solution for other struggling CIOs may be to hire experts outside the healthcare industry, particularly for non-application-based needs. "On the infrastructure side, we've certainly taken people outside the industry," says McCulloch. He explains that up to 50 percent of IT staff at Vanderbuilt University Medical Center are not from healthcare backgrounds.  The survey also found that one obstacle in providers’ ability to recruit and retain IT employees is some misconceptions about what attracts employees to a healthcare organization for employment in the first place.

According to an earlier Towers Watson survey, healthcare workers ranked job security, competitive base pay, healthcare benefits, convenient work location and career advancement opportunities as the primary reasons for accepting an offer of employment with a healthcare provider. 

However, in a complementary survey of healthcare employers, Towers Watson officials found that, with the exception of job security, healthcare employers did not rank any of these same elements when considering drivers of attraction for IT and Epic-certified employees. Instead, they identified challenging work as the most important factor in attracting an IT employee to an organization, followed by the employer’s reputation as a great place to work. They ranked base salary eighth on the overall list of draws for employees.

[See also: Staff scarcities have healthcare CIOs strapped.]

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