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New Regulations Generating Demand for HIT Skills

By Bowen Hopper

When patients enter a hospital today, chances are they’re entering the hospital of tomorrow, a world where sophisticated EMR systems enable digitized health information to follow patients everywhere they go. Practitioners view patients’ complete histories, enabling their well-orchestrated care. Gone are the paper charts that were prone to mistakes.

Credit the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for this recordkeeping transformation, including financing many of the new systems. A survey last July found that 89% of critical access hospitals were using an EHR system, and most of the other 11% planned to install such a system within a year.

But the changes, along with new government regulations, are altering the landscape for HIT personnel. New IT experts are emerging and already are in high demand, while some traditional IT roles wither as legacy medical records systems vanish.

For instance, with the strong growth in electronic recordkeeping has come the need for medical records technicians, which isn’t a surprise since one hospital visit can lead to 100 codes being entered into a patient’s record for products and services employed. This also sparks the need for supply-chain management talent, including IT personnel skilled in it.

Needed: Cloud Specialists
Medical information now is increasingly stored in the cloud rather than on tape reels, requiring IT staff capable of handling that change. As a result, IT technicians who are familiar with cloud-computing infrastructures and/or trained in data analytics are highly coveted.

IT mainframe developers once popular for operating legacy systems such as COBOL mainframes are shrinking in number as medical facilities migrate to the cloud. Fortunately, many hospitals are training their IT personnel to handle new cloud-based records systems and the like.

The new hospital technology also has made IT security personnel increasingly critical since patient and other data are being stored in the cloud (eg, Amazon, Google). Knowledge sharing favored under the ACA also makes such data more vulnerable to breaches. Data backup and redundancies also are necessary, often requiring their storage at off-site data centers. ACA and HIPAA regulations demand tighter data protection and security, which also explains the growing demand for IT security expertise and skills.

Telecom systems also are changing as the new systems employ voiceover Internet protocol, which is replacing PBX systems of business telephone systems. These shifts require IT staff familiar with the new and emerging communications systems that enable phone-connected computers for nurse stations, among other hospital areas.

Emerging ICD-10 Codes
Hospitals and other medical facilities are required to switch to the ICD-10-CM/PCS code sets by October 1, 2015. The transition to ICD-10, which took place in Europe sooner than in the United States, is occurring because ICD-9 codes produce limited data about patients’ medical conditions and hospital inpatient procedures. Those codes are 30 years old, have outdated terms, and are inconsistent with current medical practices.

In addition, ICD-10 will interconnect physicians and medical personnel globally, so they will get faster word of disease outbreaks and plagues. Of course, this change will need IT technicians skilled in connecting the technology and enabling physicians and staff to communicate with each other to monitor various health concerns.

An HIT Talent Shortage
Unfortunately, a major shortage exists for IT professionals with strong technical skills in the new electronic software and hardware systems. The medical profession and the United States have done a poor job of partnering with the education sector to train enough IT students interested in health care in the new systems and software.

There are many programs that train students in IT and computer engineering, but few have focused on the health care segment. And it can take five to 10 years to get such training programs up and running to graduate trained IT professionals.

A move has begun to combat this problem by weaving colleges and universities with the medical and IT sectors to offer clinical and other health care–specific IT programs as well as internships and externships. However, there are risks simply because health care is involved. Many hospitals won’t hire someone without hospital training. Instead, they seek job applicants with two to 10 years of experience, and that’s a small pool of candidates to pull from. The result? Candidates are treated like celebrities and sports figures. Suddenly, sign-up bonuses that had vanished for about five years are back along with other tantalizing perks to woo such HIT specialists.

To remain competitive and recruit top talent, health care organizations have adjusted their hiring strategies to make their opportunities too good to refuse. In addition to signing bonuses, these businesses employ other incentives to draw the best candidates. Relocation bonuses, work from home or flexible hour options, higher compensation rates, the latest technology, and exclusive certification opportunities are just some of the perks health care organizations employ to excite candidates about a job opportunity. This trend indicates that in health care, it’s a candidate’s market, and businesses must adjust their hiring strategy accordingly to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded industry.

— Bowen Hopper is manager of HIT at Addison Group.