Monday, July 30, 2012

Talent Shortage in Healthcare IT: Three real-world solutions to solving the problem.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

How do you find and retain top HIT talent?
There are countless stories about the current HIT skills shortage crisis, not only in informatics, but in other specialized areas of IT as well. I’ve written a few of them myself.

We’ve seen informatics baccalaureate programs pop up to help meet the expected demand. There’s only one problem: How will the healthcare industry get 50,000 new workers through a four-year program, in a partial-handful of schools, in the next two years, to address the incentivized program needs of HCOs in time for meaningful use, ICD-10, and HITECH?

The short answer is that they won’t. Besides, HCOs want experienced technical clinicians, not grads they have to train on their systems, their culture, and at their expense.

Many resourcing professionals and healthcare industry experts talk about what HCOs need to do to recruit, hire and retain top talent. My company is not immune to engaging in such activity.

I think we all know there is a fight for the top talent in HIT. I think we’re all aware of what we need to do to get the best of the best: Higher pay than the competition, an engaging work environment, a culture where life/work balance is actually balanced, great benefits, continuing education, and interesting projects. My staff and I are in the trenches every day fighting the battle. I am likely not telling any CMIOs or private practices anything they don’t already know; at least the ones who are actively involved in getting ready for the changes.

Here’s what I don’t understand: No one is taking steps to address the shortage; not the HCOs, not the doctors, not the technical resourcing industry. The only solution I’ve seen is to grant more H1B Visas.
Here are three ways I think we can address the shortage quickly and domestically (or at least more quickly than waiting for those four-year grads to come and save us.)

  1. Train experienced HIT professionals in clinical skills and terms they need to know now. That’s right I brought up the ‘T’ word. Just as C# developers are a good fit for mobile apps work, there are plenty of hard working, talented HIT professionals out there right now that can do 90% of what any HCO might need them to do from a technical standpoint. They have not gone to medical school. They know the language of healthcare IT already. They need clinical training. Community colleges offer training in nursing and other specialized healthcare fields.

    How about a curriculum to help get this crowd to a comfort level your HCO is comfortable with? Which person would you rather have running your critical projects; a four-year graduate or a seasoned manager with the added clinical knowledge? This idea brings me to my next point.

  2. HCOs need to partner with educators to develop curricula. Plain and simple; educators will never know what HCOs want employees to know unless HCOs tell them. Colleges can guess using job descriptions and industry trends. Unless HCOs provide educators with exact specifications they want IT staff to know, they’re still likely going to see candidates that can give them only 95% of what they want and need. My recommendation is for HCOs to reach out to local colleges to see if they might be of assistance in developing an informatics curriculum for experienced professionals.

  3. Treat the entire HIT staff currently employed with respect and offer incentives to stay. I know as a staffing professional this one makes my job harder if the first two solutions fall on deaf ears. If you treat your employees and contingent workforce as if they are gold rather than hired hands who you’ll lose to attrition, assimilate them into the culture of your HCO, and make them a true part of the healthcare process; you will find that not only do they want to stay, they’ll want to help improve the organization. Training, top benefits, challenging projects and work/life balance for your entire HIT staff, not just top recruits, will pay great dividends down the road.

In times like these, it’s hard to turn around without another story popping up about a skills shortage in any industry, let alone the highly specialized HIT and informatics realm. It’s even harder to find someone willing to offer up solutions.

These are mine.

I’d love to hear your ideas and solutions.