Those health IT investments have accelerated as providers seek to mine data to meet quality and cost targets under new value-based payment models such as accountable care contracts. This has heightened demand for professionals capable of leading sophisticated data-analysis programs that identify waste and find opportunities to improve the health of enrolled populations.
Skilled, experienced IT managers hold the upper hand in the job hunt, said Dr. Nicholas Marko, Geisinger's chief data officer. “Microsoft wants people who are generally bright and good at math. Google wants those people. Amazon wants those people,” he said.
Another factor driving staffing needs is consumers' expectation for easy-to-use interfaces based on their experiences with online retail, banking, travel and other goods and services. They want that from healthcare providers as well. “We think our electronic health record is, and should be, as accessible as our financial data,” said Patricia Dombrowski, executive director of the Health eWorkforce Consortium at the Bellevue (Wash.) College Life Science Informatics Center near Seattle. “That is so far from the case in healthcare,” she said.
In addition, data-security breaches have intensified competition for experts in health IT security. Health insurers Anthem, CareFirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Premera Blue Cross, and health systems including Partners HealthCare, Community Health Systems and Advocate Health Care all have reported stolen data and cyberattacks.
Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis is considering creating a new chief information-security officer position, said Susan Heichert, chief information officer for the system. But the competition for qualified candidates is intense. “With all the breaches in the news, starting with Target, that makes the job market heat up,” she said.
Health IT jobs are projected to increase 15% to 37% by 2020—far faster than employment growth for other types of jobs. Computer information-security analyst jobs are projected to increase “much faster than average” through 2020, growing by more than one-third, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2013, executive-level IT professionals averaged $189,435 in salary, up 6.1% from the prior year, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
Not-for-profit hospitals, which account for most U.S. hospital operators, typically cannot compete on salary.
An analysis by CIO.com of an annual salary survey conducted by Computerworld and IDG Enterprise found the healthcare sector paid less to IT directors and IT managers than the manufacturing, legal, insurance, computer and consulting sectors. For IT directors, the gap between those industries and healthcare was $12,000 to $31,000. For IT managers, the gap ranged from $3,000 to $22,000.
Smaller healthcare organizations particularly struggle to compete, offering lower average salaries than larger organizations, HIMSS data show. The average IT salary in 2013 at healthcare organizations with less than $5 million in revenue was $106,216, compared with $143,715 at organizations with $1 billion or more in revenue.
“Healthcare's not going to win a bidding war with anybody,” said Marko, who has recruited a half-dozen mathematicians and programmers and two computational biologists for not-for-profit Geisinger's ambitious big- data division.