Health IT Employee Shortage: Healthcare Providers Having Difficulty Recruiting Experienced IT Workers

According to a recent study by Towers Watson — an organization I’m very familiar with for having worked with them on a major healthcare project — there is a health IT employee shortage and healthcare providers need to rethink their approach to hiring and retaining the experienced information technology professionals they need in the new healthcare environment.

Apparently, providers are at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring IT staff in part because of competition from IT consultancies that can afford to pay top dollar for experienced IT professionals.

The Towers Watson survey of more than 100 healthcare providers, including hospitals, found that two-thirds (67%) are having problems attracting experienced IT employees, and 38% reporting retention issues. The attraction problem is even greater for Epic-certified professionals, with nearly three-quarters (73%) of the respondents reporting difficulty hiring these individuals, whose specialized skills are essential to meet new electronic medical record requirements under health care reform.

“Hospitals have an urgent need for experienced, highly skilled IT professionals to ensure they can meet new government requirements and qualify for financial incentives,” said Heidi Toppel, a senior rewards consultant in Towers Watson’s hospital industry group. “In addition, the ability to share patient care information and records accurately and seamlessly with a range of other providers will be essential to achieving patient satisfaction and quality-of-care outcomes in a more integrated approach to health care delivery.”

The survey found that one obstacle in providers’ ability to recruit and retain IT employees is some misconceptions about what attracts employees to a health care organization for employment in the first place.

According to an earlier Towers Watson survey, healthcare workers ranked job security, competitive base pay, healthcare benefits, convenient work location and career advancement opportunities as the primary reasons for accepting an offer of employment with a health care provider. However, in a complementary survey of health care employers, Towers Watson found that, with the exception of job security, healthcare employers did not rank any of these same elements when considering drivers of attraction for IT and Epic-certified employees.

In fact, they identified challenging work as the most important factor in attracting an IT employee to an organization, followed by the employer’s reputation as a great place to work. Perhaps most surprisingly, the employers ranked base salary eighth on the overall list of draws for employees.

“The stark differences between the factors that employers believe attract IT employees and those that employees themselves say attract them are quite surprising. What’s clear is that employees are focused on the practical, while employers are focused on the developmental. The good news is that the vast majority of employers are taking steps to close the talent gap, and seek more balance in their employee value proposition and rewards program,” said Laurie Bienstock, North American rewards leader at Towers Watson.

According to the survey, more than half (55%) of respondents are taking at least three measures to address their attraction and retention issues with IT professionals. Among the most effective are:

“Given the importance of a competitive salary in attracting IT and Epic professionals, health care providers should take whatever steps they can to meet this need. But focusing on money is only part of the solution. Presenting career and growth opportunities remains important as well, and savvy employers will create as comprehensive a program as possible. Our data confirm that IT recruiting in the health care industry is a matter of striking the right balance between the practical needs of workers today and the longer-term goal of helping an industry transform itself for a different future,” said Toppel.

According to Scott Skinger, CEO and founder of TrainSignal, “The health industry is experiencing a big shortage of suitable candidates to fill these in-demand jobs because people simply don’t have the right skill sets to fill the positions.”

Chad Daugherty, managing director of Randstad Technologies, talent and employment consultants, said, “We find that the demand for Epic positions and positions relating to ICD-10 conversions is far greater than the supply available. For these roles, recruiting nationally is often necessary. Also, healthcare organizations must pay competitively and be able to react quickly with an offer when they find the right talent or the talent will be off the market within days.”

If anyone should know, it’s Randstad Technologies, which is the 2nd largest technology talent and solutions provider in the United States with more than 200 healthcare clients.

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