Health IT worker shortage looms

PwC report warns shortage could slow industry progress
By Bernie Monegain
11:33 AM

A significant and growing shortage of health information technology workers appears greater than previously estimated, according to a new analysis by PwC's Health Research Institute. The report, Solving the talent equation for health IT, finds that the healthcare industry is vying for a limited number of IT professionals - and many companies are scrambling to fill the talent void by recruiting technology specialists from other industries.

"The challenge for healthcare is not just a shortage of people with technical skills. It's also a shortage of people with the skills to marry technological savvy with business strategy as healthcare becomes more connected, coordinated and accountable," said Daniel Garrett, principal and PwC's Health Information Technology practice leader, in a news release. "Despite billions of dollars spent investing in HIT, the lack of qualified professionals could slow progress toward quality and efficiency. The benefits of HIT will not be realized until organizations can ensure information is unlocked and integrated in a way to best inform critical business and clinical decision-making."

See also: [2012 HIMSS Survey: IT staffing shortage key barrier to meeting IT priorities.]

Top healthcare executives are concerned with the industry's ability to absorb change and integrate HIT into daily activity. According to the report, nearly 80 percent of global healthcare CEOs surveyed expect to increase technology investments in 2013, yet more than half (51 percent) fear their staff cannot keep up with the pace of technological change. Seventy-seven percent say they are revisiting their hiring and promotion strategies to address gaping holes in health IT.

According to PwC, competition for talented HIT professionals has intensified as the industry works to meet new regulatory requirements and business goals. Organizations are discovering they must work with -- rather than independently of -- industry counterparts to achieve common goals for healthcare quality including patient drug adherence in a new outcomes-based environment that pays for value over volume. The ongoing challenge in HIT is finding people who understand the movement to an integrated health system, as well as the needs of providers, insurers and drug and device makers.

Under pressure to meet requirements for electronic health records and avoid penalties, hospitals, physicians and other caregivers have the greatest need for IT specialists in the health sector. Three-quarters (75 percent) of providers, such as hospitals and physician groups, are hiring new employees to support their IT priorities. Providers believe clinical informaticists -- specialists who transform data into information used to improve care delivery -- will have the most important skills for achieving their IT priorities.

See also: [CIO survey forecasts IT staffing troubles ahead.]

The report found that more than half (54 percent) of insurers surveyed have acquired another organization in the past 12 months. This industry consolidation has created the need to integrate systems and data from newly-acquired companies. Insurers ranked systems and data integration skills as most important to meeting HIT priorities. Seventy percent of insurers said it would be very important for new hires to have informatics and data analytics skills over the next three years.

IT trends in the biopharmaceutical industry reinforce a growing need for economic outcomes research, bioinformatics and increased outsourcing to technology companies for cost savings. Demand for a new set of technology skills is emerging to support more collaborative approaches to research and to demonstrate both clinical and economic benefit. The survey found that 35 percent of drug and device companies partner with clinical research organizations and 31 percent partner with academic medical centers to reduce the cost of research and development.