Hospitals put out ‘Help Wanted’ sign for IT personnel

By John Andrews
02:18 PM

While stubbornly high unemployment continues to drag on the rest of the economy, the healthcare industry can’t seem to find enough qualified people to fill its information technology needs. Unlike other sectors where hiring remains muted, health systems are crying out for talent in IT, information management and coding, employment specialists say.

“Since the middle of 2010 when the details of the ARRA stimulus bill began to be understood, demand has been growing at an increasing rate,” said Jim Gibson, president of Ridgefield, Conn.-based Gibson Consultants. “The scramble for implementation and project management resources started early and has only intensified with the number of Epic systems being deployed. HIPAA 5010 and ICD-10 have created another wave of demand for multiple skill sets. Now, health reform’s push toward an information-based healthcare system is creating a market for health information professionals, which should increase in intensity as ACOs take shape.”

Yet ARRA, HIPAA 5010, ICD-10, and health reform are only the most visible drivers of demand, Gibson says, pointing out that wireless and mobility breakthroughs, Medicare RAC audits, patient safety concerns, and an aging core administration infrastructure are also factors in the push for more personnel.

Beth Just, president of Centennial, Colo.-based Just Associates sees a trend that favors business analyst positions over purely technical jobs.

“It’s the managing of health information that has to occur for meaningful use and other initiatives,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot more HIM professionals moving over to the IT side. The more advanced health organizations are seeing that they need to have this domain of knowledge from people who have four-year and master-level degrees on how to manage health data and health information.”

Even so, technical jobs are hot as well, said Jill Schwieters, president of Milwaukee, Wis.-based Pinstripe Healthcare.

“Everybody wants the federal dollars, so the IT space is a hot space,” she said. “There is a high demand for Epic programmers and it is a great field to be in right now. And filling these spots is a challenge because there aren’t enough people out there – you have to find the right talent pools.”

Job evolution

“Often it’s a matter of knowing where to look – there are shifting titles and shifting responsibilities,” she said. “Where once a person may have been managing a team of people scanning paper records, that job may not be needed anymore if the organization now has online documentation. So then that type of person can shift over to the business analyst side.”

Moreover, there appears to be more of a blend between IT and HIM happening, which is causing rearrangements of the organizational charts, Just said.

“Where the HIM department might have reported to the CFO or associate administrator, now HIM and IT might be together, reporting to the CIO,” she said. “While HIM might now be part of the IT department, their functions and responsibilities are very different than those installing applications, running the help desk and managing interfaces. HIM personnel are data stewards.”

Ultimately, the new hospital IT landscape “is all about the data,” Gibson said.

“The current widespread adoption of electronic health records is the first phase of the transformation of our healthcare finance and delivery system,” he said. “Capturing interactions electronically opens up limitless possibilities for knowledge-based decision making in areas that clinicians, administrators and payers have been denied to date. The second phase of the transformation will be to use all the newly generated data to provide better care and align the payment system with the achievement of better care results. But it all comes down to the data and being able to turn it into actionable information.”

Coders sought

“The average age of coders is early 50s and expectations are that many of them will leave rather than learn the new format,” she said. “With revenues tied to billing and coding, that makes new coders highly sought-after.

In fact, ICD-10 is already creating demand for resources in hospitals, health plans, consulting firms, and even physician practices, Gibson says.

“Anyone who can knowledgeably help assess the impact on operations, workflow, revenue cycle, reporting and so forth is already in demand,” he said. “This demand extends beyond the assessment stage to include testing, education, and, of course, the changeover. However, once we go live on the new coding scheme, those that can help a provider get paid more accurately and timely, such as coders and billers, will see their value rise even higher.”

Clinicians & IT

“At this point, if an organization like the Mayo Clinic is looking for a talented cardiologist, they don’t see computer skills as a top priority,” said Thorp, managing director for Chicago-based Huron Consulting.

“But while it is not a top criteria yet, the idea of computer savvy and ‘trainability’ is much more on the radar screen than in the past,” she added. “As healthcare organizations strive to become leaders in patient satisfaction and quality, they realize that having clinicians with strong computer skills will be critical to the long-term success of those models.”

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