Healthcare IT talent war is on

By Bernie Monegain
10:34 AM

Meaningful use incentives, HIPAA and ICD-10 conversion are combining to create a high demand for healthcare IT professionals in the marketplace. Eric Marx, vice president of healthcare IT services for IT staffing and recruiting firm Modis, talks with Healthcare IT News Editor Bernie Monegain about what hospitals and other healthcare organizations are doing to find the right people for the right jobs.

Are IT professionals without experience in the healthcare sector taking advantage of the high demand for healthcare IT professionals?
Unfortunately, the answer is typically, they don’t. One reason is all the deadlines in place of meaningful use, HIPAA 5010, ICD-10 and healthcare reform. Right now time is not a luxury they have. So, while we’ve seen a few scattered situations where some of the more creative organizations or CIOs are able to translate and ramp up people, typically they just need to pay a premium to land someone who can hit the ground running right now.

Have you noticed that salaries have changed?
We actually have direct confirmation of that from some of our larger clients. If you think back to Y2K craziness – that type of stuff, I’ve heard organizations have adapted to the point where they say they’re putting specific retention programs in place. They’re starting to see inflation in the marketplace, so they’re putting market research, salary research in place every six month or so, and they are putting bonuses and other creative options into play in order to lure the right amount of talent.

Will hospitals and other healthcare organizations find the right IT people at the right time?

We know we have a shortage. We know the right people are difficult to find. But again back to the idea of the deadlines with significant incentives and penalties potentially looming here, there’s really not a luxury of bringing someone in that doesn’t have the exact skill sets you need. So, if you need someone with certain Epic-certified qualifications, you can’t wait around to bring someone up to speed or sponsor them for the three to six or nine months it may take because then you’re in jeopardy of missing out on your incentives.

So what are hospitals doing instead?
Right now what I’m seeing is the pain is not yet high enough for them to make a lot of creative alternative staffing plans. So instead they’re basically just engaging in the war. So if they have to pay a premium to get the right people, that’s the current situation that they’re in. I do foresee – I can’t say what specific timeframe – but there will be a point in time when some of these hurdles are cleared. It will give them the opportunity to bring in some more general IT people from other industries and have a little more time to ramp them up with the clinical side. They’re going to have to do it if they’re going to keep their cost down. For the long run there’s no way to sustain what they’re doing with the high rates they need to pay to secure the talent they need. They’re going to have to find a different way to manage this on a long-term basis so it’s less expensive.

How have the salaries changed?
I can speak in generalities. It was pretty easy to see in late 2010. You could see that it was coming. Everybody could see that it was coming. But rates were still what I would say reasonable. You could still find someone with certain skill sets. I’m talking specifically about the electronic health records marketplace. It was only a matter of about three or four months from there that things started to happen. If you think about it, everyone is going after the same pool of people. So, what happens is inflation starts to occur. What we’ve seen for the most part is 10 to 20 percent increase in market rates. This is for consultants typically. And, those are continuing to go higher. We’ve seen people asking for well north of what you’d consider normal six months ago with four or five years total experience out of college.