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November 2016

Tips for Hiring, Educating Staff
By Laurie McBrierty, MLT, ASCP
For The Record
Vol. 28 No. 11 P. 6

Does it feel like you are always struggling to fill open HIM positions? As the population ages and creates more demand for health care services, finding qualified candidates is a challenge throughout the industry, one that will only be compounded by the number of staff members retiring over the next few years.

The shortage of qualified professionals is real. AHIMA projects that 6,000 HIM professionals will be needed each year to fill new positions and replace retiring baby boomers. However, AHIMA estimates that only 2,000 new graduates are entering the HIM field annually. In addition to those findings, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in the HIM profession will grow by 15% through 2024.

Facing a job candidate pool that seems to be shrinking while the demand for these professionals is increasing can seem daunting. To rise to the challenge, organizations are employing various approaches, but two in particular are worth a closer look: automated prehire assessment tools and career path programs for current employees.

Automated Prehire Assessment Tools
A 2012 CareerBuilder study put the total price tag of a bad hire at approximately $25,000, according to 41% of employer respondents. Knowing that a bad hire can cost an organization as much as $12,500 (according to a Harvard Business School estimate) in turnover costs alone has some employers using a prehire assessment to help them understand the skills of new candidates.

Bringing the right candidate on board can reduce those costs associated with turnover and help employee retention. According to findings from the Aberdeen group, organizations that use prehire assessments retain employees at the end of the critical first year at a rate 14 percentage points higher than other organizations. Furthermore, good-fit employees hit their performance targets more quickly and provide solid options for internal promotions. Organizations that use prehire assessments report hiring from within 25% more often than other organizations.

Prehire assessment tools provide information on the quality of candidates' skills and take subjectivity out of grading manual assessments. All candidates are measured the same way on the same material, and employers can determine how they use the results. Because it does not require manual grading, the automated reporting saves time. As employers narrow the field and select their new hires, they can use the assessment to tailor onboarding training to specific skills the individual candidates need to improve.

HIM departments are beginning to adopt this technology to replace the traditional manual methods used to screen transcriptionists and coders. It's important that department leaders partner with Human Resources while implementing this tool to ensure they have input into the creation of the policy and procedures.

Career Paths for Employees
As the shortage of qualified HIM employees grows, simply hiring the best candidates is often not enough to fill the need. Career path education is a valuable tool in retaining the best employees instead of losing them to a competitor. This applies to employees in departments being reduced as well as those already in stable environments such as coding and HIM.

The organizations most successful at retaining employees recognize the value of each individual by providing additional education to help staff members continue to develop and fine-tune their skills. This may take the form of ongoing education to improve skills in specific areas such as CPT or diagnosis-related group coding, or advanced transition education such as training the best outpatient coders to become inpatient coders or transitioning the most talented inpatient coders into auditing roles.

In some cases, organizations create their own coding education processes to transition solid employees from departments with staff reductions, such as medical transcription or chart analysis, to more in-demand areas such as coding.

Organizations are using a combination of in-person coaching and online education programs. This hybrid approach has proven an excellent choice because it provides flexibility for both employers and employees. Staff are able to modify existing work schedules, and the hands-on coaching helps them gain more confidence. Using this method, employers can produce new coders in approximately six months.

Online programs provide tracking and reporting tools that allow organizations to implement hybrid education processes without adding a management burden to the department. To ensure these employees stay engaged and the organization is able to recoup its investment, some organizations have developed a minimum grade level requirement that must be maintained in order for employees to remain in the program.

By implementing career path education and retraining, organizations are better positioned to keep the very best employees. Also, employees become more dedicated to their work and their loyalty to the organization increases. At the same time, the organization alleviates hiring needs.

What the Future Holds
The challenge of replacing the large baby boomer population leaving HIM will be ongoing over the next several years. Hiring and retraining top-notch staff is vital in positions where the growth rate is forecast to be more than twice the national average of all employment categories.

While the shortage of qualified HIM employees may be a growing reality, it's a challenge organizations can overcome by proactively screening candidates' skills, implementing a prehire assessment process, and creating a career path education program.

— Laurie McBrierty, MLT, ASCP, is vice president of product management at Career Step.