Talent shortages threaten IT momentum

Talent shortages threatening IT momentum

Lack of staffing is now edging out financial considerations as the top barrier to hospital implementations

It will surprise precisely no one that there's been a steady and significant growth in the size of hospital IT departments in recent years. HIMSS Analytics data shows that staff sizes have grown considerably, from an average of 24 full-time equivalents in 2008, to 35 FTEs in 2012.

[See also: Staff scarcities have healthcare CIOs strapped]

That, of course, is "primarily driven by the fact that we have so many more systems being deployed," says HIMSS Analytics Executive Vice President John Hoyt.

"There's another issue to which we do not have a definitive answer," he adds. "How much of that growth is driven by the fact that CIOs are picking up some other responsibilities, such as bioengineering or telecommunications?"

[See also: Job titles change as health IT evolves]

Even if those newfangled duties are accounting for some of the uptick, there's no question that the majority of the most pressing IT needs for hospitals have to do with implementing and running clinical and financial systems – and helping their facilities wrangle with pressing federal mandates such as meaningful use and ICD-10.

And make no mistake: Even as staff sizes have grown, the workload has grown even faster. But even if hospitals have the will and the wherewithal to hire more help, the competition is fierce for quality talent.

There are many reasons for that, says JoAnn Klinedinst, vice president of professional development at HIMSS. One barrier is a hospital-specific twist on the old Catch-22 for young people trying to break into the workforce: "I can't get a job because I don't have Epic experience, and I can't get Epic experience until I get a job."

Another challenge, even for whip-smart IT pros who might be tempted toward the booming healthcare industries from other corners of the economy? "Coming in from other industries, there's a language barrier," says Klinedinst. "I'm not talking English, French or Portuguese; it's understanding the language of a healthcare setting. That certainly takes time as well."

Klinedinst offers some advice for those looking to break in that might be surprising to some. "If you can, volunteer, first and foremost.," she says. "If you're not in a degree program, look for internships.

At the least, "Be willing to take a lower level job," she says. "If you're a project manager with 15 years experience in financial systems, if you want to work in health IT you might need to take $15,000 to $20,000 pay cut to get in. Or you might get lucky and get hired into the financial services department to help ramp up their revenue cycle efforts."