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Lack of healthcare IT workers slows tech progress

Lucas Mearian | March 13, 2013
Tech workers skilled in informatics are the most-sought.

The U.S. healthcare industry is facing an even more significant IT worker shortage than previously thought, and that shortage is slowing efforts to roll out electronic health systems.

A new analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute showed that the shortage of health IT (HIT) workers has healthcare providers scrambling to fill the talent void by recruiting technology specialists from other industries.

The PwC report cited a recent survey by the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) that showed 67% of healthcare CIOs are experiencing IT staff shortages, up from 59% in 2010.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed by CHIME said staffing challenges will negatively impact their chances to receive incentives from the government's three-stage program for implementing electronic health records (EHRs) and the meaningful use of them.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has dispensed more than $7.7B in reimbursement payments to more than 307,000 healthcare professionals and 4,000 hospitals deploying EHRs under government guidelines. In order to meet guidelines, healthcare providers must attest to three different stages of so called "meaningful use" of EHRs.

When healthcare CEOs were surveyed, 51% said they were concerned by the speed of technology change and 77% said they expect changes to their talent search strategies.

But the shortage goes beyond HIT workers 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, PwC's HIT practice leader. "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."

PwC's report comes on the heels of a recent survey of 298 senior IT executives at healthcare firms, which found that 21% fear they won't be able to find the tech staff needed to complete an e-health system. Healthcare providers are facing federal pressure to implement EHRs and a massive, new medical coding system known as ICD-10.

The IT executive survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) also found that 51% of respondents plan to increase IT staff in the next year -- mostly personnel that can build clinical applications, such as computer physician order entry systems and EHR systems. Staffers are also needed to build clinical applications (34%) and network and architecture support (21%).

PwC's report showed that 75% of healthcare providers are now hiring new employees to support their IT priorities, and 37% they believe clinical informatics will be the most important skill for achieving their IT priorities. Clinical informatics specialists transform data into information used to improve care delivery.


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