The federal government has long estimated there would be a shortage in the healthcare information technology labor force, but, according to a new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the talent shortfall may be even larger than the government expected.
“Companies are scrambling to fill a talent void that could impede progress toward meeting government and consumer expectations,” said the authors of the 18-page report, “Solving the Talent Equation for Health IT
.” As a result, “healthcare companies are increasingly borrowing technology specialists from other industries” feeling “it might be easier than teaching current employees new tech skills,” but meanwhile, “struggling to make compensation packages enticing.”
The government has estimated the health IT labor force shortage
at 50,000 workers. “There is evidence to suggest the reality may be even greater,” the report authors suggest, without quantifying how much larger the gap might be.
The report is based on a survey of human resources strategies by PWC's Health Research Institute conducted in late 2012 and interviews with 20 IT and HR professionals, the authors said. Among their other findings, the researchers reported high turnover and poor succession planning in health IT leadership, a big demand for analysts that can tap “big data” and make it actionable, and a running debate on what to outsource and whether to centralize data processing or keep it at the department level.
According to CIOs and HR professionals surveyed, 75% indicated their organizations are hiring new IT talent, 67% reported experiencing IT staffing shortages while 59% indicated those shortages are so severe they will negatively impact their chances to receive federal electronic health record incentive payments.
Health IT leaders need to put talent development higher on their priority lists, the authors suggest, citing a recent employment survey that found the number of healthcare employers that plan to train people without a background in healthcare doubled between 2011 and 2012, but that expansion of training opportunities is wider in health insurance, medical device and drug companies than in hospitals.
Health IT leaders also could invest in training as an employee retention strategy. And, they could do a better job identifying and grooming their potential successors.
One other thing, health IT leaders should look around to discover a largely untapped— at least by providers—health IT talent resource.
Few of the healthcare executives interviewed by the Health Research Institute were aware that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at HHS has funded a community college-based, health IT workforce development program. That matches the results from this year's Modern Healthcare/Modern Physician Survey of Executive Opinions on Key Information Technology Issues
, in which only 10% of survey participants reported having any current employees either enrolled in or having graduated from one of the community college-based programs.
Most of the trainees from these programs “find employment with pharma companies and insurers,” the report authors said.