War on talent about to begin in healthcare IT

By Bernie Monegain
10:18 AM

The government's piece of the stimulus package aimed at boosting the adoption and use of healthcare information technology is expected to create 50,000 new jobs – maybe more.

A panel of healthcare IT experts who spoke Thursday at the 6th annual Connected Health Symposium in Boston agreed that 50,000 seems right.

"The need for IT is going to explode," said Andrew Vaz, national director of life sciences for Deloitte Consulting. He said companies like Oracle, SAP, IBM and Cerner are trying to position themselves to "win the war on talent," both in the United States and offshore.

"Fifty-thousand is a pretty big number," said John Glaser, CIO of Partners HealthCare in Boston and an adviser to the nation's healthcare IT chief, David Blumenthal, MD. "The timeframe is pretty short. That's just a lot of people in a short period of time."

There are a few unknowns.

"We don't know how fast that will occur," Glaser said. "Also, we don't really understand the secondary opportunities."

New workers will be needed at all levels, from pulling wire to overseeing installations, Glaser said. Doctors and other healthcare providers will also need help getting started.

"The current workforce in our healthcare organizations are not prepared to stretch," said Eileen Sporing, senior vice president for patient care operations and chief nursing officer at Children's Hospital Boston.

She said nurses might not be as well prepared for the change from paper to digital as other healthcare providers.

 "Nursing as a discipline is not advancing quickly enough in the informatics field," she said.  "Nursing has a huge deficit of knowledge, a long curve." By contrast, she said, the pharmacy workforce seems "fairly facile."

Training

Glaser said training would be needed in established computer science and informatics programs in universities and community colleges, depending on the level of skills sought.

He said the federal government will "put some money on the table" for training.  He also expects healthcare organizations will fund some of the training "because they've got to invest to draw talent." The same goes for vendors, he said.

Sporing agreed. "It's a mix, same as we're doing now," she said.

The biggest gap is in the higher-level set of skilled IT workers, Vaz said.

"It will be hard to find seasoned, experienced" personnel, Glaser agreed. And while there is appeal to hiring bright, energetic 23- and 24-year-olds, he said, there's an "element of effectiveness on the job" that comes from having seen and solved problems associated with major deployments.