Experts worry that hospitals may not have the resources to keep up
As if it already weren’t tough enough to find and retain quality health information technology professionals, the recent passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act as part of the Obama administration’s broader economic stimulus package may only make the task more difficult.
“We had a shortage of talent before this stimulus was initiated,” says Timothy R. Zoph, chief information officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “This will exacerbate the problem.”
Compounding the issue further is a triple whammy of major IT projects facing every health care organization. Not only is there the HITECH-fueled push for electronic health records, the stimulus law also tightens HIPAA privacy and security requirements, something American Health Information Management Association CEO Linda Kloss calls a “very big challenge.” And already in the works is the transition to ICD-10 coding and the related ANSI X12 5010 electronic transactions.
“We’re going to do this all in the next five years, while also trying to retain the current workforce and encourage technology innovation,” Kloss says. And no matter if the country meets the administration’s goal of having a nationwide system of interoperable EHRs by 2014 or not, the field has to look long-term. “After systems are in place, you have 10 years of optimization work to do,” Kloss adds.
AHIMA divides health information professionals into three camps: computer scientists; information managers; and informaticists with clinical backgrounds. Kloss says there are shortages in all three areas.
With so many good IT people out of work in other industries, it may be tempting to look to that talent pool to fill nonclinical spots, but Joel Taylor, chief technology officer at
Manhattan’s Physician Group in New York City, cautions against that strategy because the learning curve is steeper in health care than just about anywhere else.
“There are not a lot of people adept at implementing electronic medical record systems,” Taylor says. “Each [EMR] product is so unique. The architecture is different, the software is different.”
Zoph will rely on general IT professionals and outsourcing for some “commodity-type” functions like installing hardware, monitoring security and supporting financial systems, but some skills such as clinical analytics and HIPAA compliance are unique to health care. “That requires an internal team of talent that knows your organization, knows your culture,” Zoph says.