Health organizations 'struggling' to find talent

By Mike Miliard
12:12 PM

Hiring on the uptick, but high-qualified candidates hard to come by

The Department of Labor estimates a 30 percent increase in healthcare hiring between now and 2014 – totaling as many as 4.7 million new jobs. As part of that, the department predicted the need for some 50,000 workers in health IT to meet the demands of meaningful use, ICD-10 and more.

That's great news for top-notch job seekers. But it's bad news for cash-strapped hospitals. Because, as a recent PwC Health Research Institute report put it, those skilled technology professionals are akin to "needles in a haystack."

The competition is pitched to land those employees – and those who are hired are commanding big salaries.

The area of clinical application support is in especially high demand.

"It's more competitive than any other market right now," says John Hoyt, executive vice president of HIMSS Analytics. "Because there are placement firms who are body shops, and they are offering bonuses – sign-on bonuses – something hospitals rarely do. And so hospitals are losing their people to these body shops because they can go get a sign-on bonus and travel for a few years. It's a really, really competitive market. Clinicians and IT combined into one person is a valuable person."

The fact that clinical application support and clinical informatics are in such high-demand points to how far health IT has come.

"About 14 years ago, it was a highly competitive market for server management and security," says Hoyt. "We've matured in that space, and it's now a real battle for clinicians."

Sixty-one percent of providers say they expect to increase the size of their IT staff in the coming year, according to the 2012 HIMSS Leadership Survey, published in February. But as these organizations desperately cast about to find the right experts for implementations, their prospects are often further narrowed by their own vendors.

"They're struggling," says Hoyt. "They're struggling to find the people. And there's somewhat of a constraint: Some vendors will say, ‘You cannot have somebody install my software that I have not certified as a certified installer on my system.’ The vendor becomes a bottleneck."

Thousands of college graduates walked timidly into one of the worst job markets in recent memory this past May. Ostensibly, health IT would be one of the first sectors many of them would turn to. But not everyone is hiring people right out of school.

"Some of the placement firms will not take a fresh grad," say Hoyt. "But I know vendors will take kids out of college. And they'll train them. They'll train 'em and train 'em and train 'em. And if the kid says to the vendor three magic words – 'I can travel' – and they've got a good GPA and they look presentable, they can train them and put them on the road."

Another problem, however, is that most young technology grads just aren't aware of the opportunities in health IT.

"I think when they think healthcare, they think hospitals," says Hoyt.

"That's exactly right," adds JoAnn Klinedinst, vice president, professional development, at HIMSS. "And that's a big problem."

Hoyt's suggestion? "The vendors need to get on college campuses."

Clearly the past couple years have been banner years for health IT jobs. The HITECH Act, of course, is the big reason why.

"Hospitals are being incentivized to deploy healthcare IT, and they're doing it for several reasons," says Hoyt.

"One, it's the right thing to do. Two, there is some money attached. Three, if they don't do it, there's a disincentive. All three of those are congealing to drive the market."

But what about after meaningful use is all said and done? Will there be a leveling off? Or even a burst bubble?

Hoyt doesn't think so. "There's something coming behind this, called bundled payments and payment reform that'll mean deja vu all over again," he says.

"The other thing is that you need to sustain these systems that need to be implemented," says Klinedinst. "Whenever you hear me talk about meaningful use, you'll hear me talk about achieving – and sustaining – the meaningful use of health IT, because once these organizations put their systems in, guess what? That's where it starts. That's not the end, that's where it starts."

Going forward, Hoyt expects to see more of the same – at least in the near term. "I think you will see in the future more of the clinical informaticists who are analysts of clinical and business intelligence. Because once we get all this stuff live, and we have piles and piles of digital data, how are we analyzing it to improve quality, safety and access?"

One thing's for sure: It's going to remain a challenge to staff IT teams.

"I think it will be for a few years," says Hoyt.