The U.S. Department of Labor has earmarked both healthcare and information technology (IT) as two job sectors that are expected to show real growth in the next few years, but when the two are combined, the job prospects soar. The 2010 Affordable Health Care Act - a/k/a Obamacare - provides powerful incentives for healthcare institutions and individual providers to utilize electronic medical records (EHRs). Even the most vocal critics of this legislation agree that establishing a EHR protocol makes sense for patients and healthcare providers and institutions. Having accurate and easily accessible medical records is smart, cost-efficient and insures patients get optimum care. However, while there are plenty of excellent EHR software programs, IT staff is in short supply.
In a July survey from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), 67% of the hospitals/healthcare systems surveyed reported a shortage of qualified IT staff. That is a significant increase from 2010, when a similar CHIME report revealed that 59% of those surveyed indicated they were short-handed in the IT department.
"Even with two years of focused attention on implementing electronic health records at the nation's hospitals in response to federal incentives, it's clear that staffing is a significant concern for IT executives," says the Chief Information Officer at a Kentucky hospital. "Staff needs aren't likely to abate over the next couple years, as CIOs continue to push to achieve meaningful use targets and switch to ICD-10-compliant applications."
According to the survey, there is a particular need for IT specialists who can implement and support clinical applications, including establishing, maintaining and managing EHRS and operating computerized order entry systems. 74% indicated a need for personnel in IT support staff positions that are fluent with clinical software.
Going hand-in-hand with the need for qualified IT personnel is the retention factor. In the most recent survey of healthcare CIOs, 85% of respondents expressed concern about retaining their IT staffs. This figure is up from 76% in 2010.
"Retention is important because information systems need constant care and attention once they're implemented," notes the deputy CIO at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. "Clinical systems are complex, are regularly being updated, and new clinical staff must be trained to use them as well. Being able to retain IT staff familiar with an organization's systems is crucial for CIOs."
The most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics report there are currently just over 176,000 jobs in healthcare IT. The agency also reports that this sector is the leading creator of IT job opportunities, with projections calling for an average of 20% annual growth between now and 2018.
Due to the demand for qualified IT personnel, job training options are many and flexible. Most positions require some kind of post-secondary, non-degree training. Options range from IT-specific associate degree programs, to online certification programs and some employers may require professional certification. And it is important to remember that entry-level IT positions often offer the opportunity for career advancement -- which is good news for career-smart techies everywhere!