Health Information Exchange Featured Article

June 25, 2012

Shortage of Healthcare IT Workers Worsening, More Training Needed

What’s been in the news for a long time has been the lack of jobs in our nation, but if you’re an IT worker and want to work in healthcare, there are more jobs than takers.

Educators say training programs are not keeping up with the demand for information technology workers with expertise in medical data, according to a story by Jackie Crosby.

"There's a major skills gap right now," Ryan Sandefer of the College of St. Scholastica, a private school that offers Minnesota’s only four-year and master's degree programs in the fast-growing field, told Crosby. "There's just tons and tons of data. The problem is, there's not a whole lot of people with the technical expertise in how to build the systems correctly or how to use the data accurately."

How many health IT workers could get jobs if they needed them? Would you believe 12,000 all the way up to 50,000 in the next five years? Those are the figures Crosby got from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobs involve helping hospitals and clinics handle coding and billing, setting up patient's electronic health records, and training workers who can analyze and manage data, as well as train clinicians and others in the technology, while protecting it against privacy breaches.

"We need people who can make sense of it all, and help us get good reports that tell us how well we're doing with the quality of care," Linda Wagner, a nurse and director of clinical education at Essentia Health, a Duluth-based network of rural hospitals and clinics across four states, told Crosby. "We just can't get them."

It’s on the mind of the federal government, too. The Office of the National Coordinator has allocated $116 million to community colleges and universities across the country, having also invested in curriculum creation to support development of a robust health IT workforce, but will it be enough? Clinton Wingrove, the principal consultant at Pilat HR Solutions, told Healthcare IT News that “the rate at which healthcare systems are developing is simply too fast to guarantee an adequate supply of workers.”

Where the shortage will hit the hardestthat the shortage of health care workers “is a chronic problem in low-income and rural areas and that residents in these areas could encounter more difficulty in accessing care,” though telemedicine is proving to be one answer. 34 states received $30 million in grants from the Department of Agriculture last year to improve access to healthcare and educational services in rural areas. is rural areas that are already underserved. A California Healthline included a recent study reporting

Some say it’s not the lack of healthcare workers, but organizations’ inability to pick the right ones. In a recent HDM blog, "Get a Job," Rob Tholemeier study that require being aware of the rhythm of things and non-verbal communications. Computer science degrees are particularly bad fits for I.T. careers--CS degrees should remain in academia.”wrote, “"The best I.T. people tend to not be credentialed. If they have degrees, they're typically in music or the visual arts--lines of 

Whatever the reason, the shortage is real, but maybe healthcare facilities should just go visit an Apple store. Seems they have no dearth of resumes!

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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo