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Strategies to Win the War for Healthcare IT Talent

The State of the Healthcare Industry

It is sobering that 195,000 avoidable patient deaths occur every year due to poor information management. Over the last few years, government and healthcare organizations have issued mandates for improvements to optimize operational workflows within the healthcare industry to prevent these types of unfortunate mistakes. HIPAA, ICD-10, data management / integration, and meaningful use requirements are the most recent healthcare initiatives; and each demands heavy IT investment to better support clinical operations and, ultimately, drive superior patient care. Now, more than ever, healthcare professionals with the necessary IT skill sets have the opportunity to make a truly positive and significant impact on the future of healthcare and the patient experience.

TEKsystems’ Focus on Healthcare

For the last 25 years, TEKsystems has partnered with healthcare organizations to help them overcome technology challenges and capitalize on technology-enabled competitive advantages. We joined our clients at the HIMSS11 event in Orlando, Florida to continue our conversations around timely issues that they face and the IT solutions that they need to address them. TEKsystems hosted a focus group at HIMSS11, Strategies to Win the War for Healthcare IT Talent. Fifteen healthcare IT leaders joined us to discuss the challenges around meeting meaningful use guidelines, and how finding the right talent to fill skill gaps is a critical issue facing all segments within the healthcare industry. Participants discussed the difficulties they face in working toward meaningful use including technology, workforce / talent and vendor issues.

Now, more than ever, healthcare professionals with the necessary IT skill sets have the opportunity to make a truly positive and significant impact on the future of healthcare and the patient experience.


“It’s like Jenga… the early stages are easy. Then it becomes exponentially more complicated to take the next turn. If we don’t set ourselves up right, we pay for that and we can’t afford it.”

The path toward meaningful use is not defined and the broad scope of the requirements makes it difficult to know where to begin. Therefore, it is common that different entities within the healthcare industry are working on unique electronic health record (EHR) initiatives, with different focuses, visions, plans and paths. Additionally, organizational workflows are not integrated and the silo-ed approaches used previously to solve problems further complicate scope definition. Before work can begin, processes need to be understood and clearly defined. Companies also face complicated interoperability challenges, where applications cannot communicate or where different versions of varied systems cannot interact. While these complex problems have stalled initial progress, focus group participants predict that the path ahead is only going to grow more complex and difficult to manage.

Technology readiness

“The technologies can’t keep pace with the need for change.”

Technology readiness is another issue that surfaced during the meaningful use discussion. Participants said that technology has not yet caught up to the varied and complicated needs associated with meaningful use. As with the increasingly complex workflow issues predicted, focus group participants fear that the gap between their technical demands and requirements, and technology’s ability to address those needs will only get more pronounced in the next five years. Participants also note that technology vendors are not able to offer the level of support that they need to meet requirements in some instances. Vendors and their consultants are certified in certain functionality that can be used in a certain way. If a provider or hospital does not utilize the system in the same way, the vendor cannot offer certification, and the work needs to be done in house, from the ground up.

According to the 2011 Black Book Ranking’s user survey, 90 percent of healthcare providers that purchased electronic medical records technology are off track to meet their meaningful use implementation goals. Participants in the focus group noted three main reasons: project complexity, technology readiness and the need for speed.

Need for speed

“It’s one wild ride, really.”

Companies are trying to work at a lightning fast pace as they try to implement EHR systems. The aggressive timelines make it difficult to train IT teams to meet the new requirements. Therefore, providers and hospitals try to find the skill sets they need, while not slowing the progress toward achieving meaningful use. Burn out and overwork were noted as common problems as the skilled resources are asked to do more, work longer hours and take on tasks that were once outside of their job descriptions.

Diagnosis: The Talent Shortage

“I’ve been in this industry over 20 years. I’ve never seen a demand for IT staff like I’m seeing today…The competition is intense and we are poaching each others’ workforces to get the talent we need.”

Seventy seven percent of respondents of the 2011 Black Book Ranking’s user survey said that they are facing a lack of available and/or trained staff to properly implement EHR. When organizations lack current staff with the necessary experience, they feel completely reliant on their vendors. This “blind reliance” has caused significant obstacles to meaningful use initiatives, according to the focus group participants. One executive noted that his vendor’s lack of knowledge and ability to support his needs were discovered too late and forced him to scale back and then delay his project for more than a year.

According to CHIME’S CIO Staffing Survey, 60 percent say that IT staffing deficiencies will possibly (51 percent) or definitively (10 percent) affect their chances to implement an EHR and receive stimulus funding.This dynamic problem has caused fierce competition for top talent. Participants collectively experience a magnitude of demand for IT talent that is more extreme than it has ever been previously.

According to a survey of 135 healthcare IT managers conducted by the American Society of Health Informatics Managers, 96 percent believe that there will be between 50,000 and 200,000 new health IT jobs created between now and 2015 and CIOs are concerned about where they will find the needed talent. Skill set requirements are vast, ranging from Analysts to Project Managers and everywhere in between. Across all required roles, participants express a strong desire for professionals who not only possess the necessary IT skills, but also healthcare experience, especially clinical understanding. While textbook knowledge is important, the participants say it does not translate to practical reality. An understanding of the many stakeholders, the intricate workflows involved in meaningful use, and the clinical side of the business are critical in building IT solutions that are practical and sustainable.

Focus group participants are trying various strategies to fulfill their IT talent needs. Some are willing to train some roles, if candidates demonstrate solid analytical skills and a high commitment to learn. But most say they do not have time to wait for their teams to learn the necessary skills. Other options explored included “broadbanding roles” to find qualified people who can wear multiple hats and then train others; removing HR policy roadblocks; offering perks and gadgets, providing more work/life flexibility; and relaxing salary constraints when ideal candidates are found. At a minimum, all participants say they are focused on retaining the IT professionals they currently have. They recognize that the pace and intricacy of their initiatives puts them at risk of burning out their core IT teams — a risk they cannot afford to actualize.

Staging for Success: Talent Management Strategies

Some strategies work better than others when it comes to attracting, developing and retaining a workforce that can support meaningful use initiatives. Participants note the importance of not overcomplicating their meaningful use initiatives by working toward complete transformation right away. Rather, they say it’s critical to first clarify the goals, strategy and roadmap for meaningful use compliance, and then build a talent management plan based on that simpler and more actionable direction.

Some key components to consider in the overall talent management strategy include:

  • Talent Assessment – Portfolio management will dictate at some level which skills will be a premium. While skills may change, there will be critical positions surrounding business process and workflow that will need to be filled. Retention in these areas will be critical for success but difficult.
  • Retention – Gaining a clear knowledge of current teams is important in understanding what skill gaps are need to be filled. Once information is gathered, it’s key to talk with teams to understand what motivates them. Offering development opportunities and developing roadmaps for career advancement can go a long way in ensuring that companies are able to retain their top talent.
  • Training – When time permits, training the current workforce can ease the burden of sourcing hard to find skill sets. It is often necessary as a creative means of transforming the workforce by drawing IT professionals from other industries or like skill sets from other technologies and then helping them build skills that do not currently exist. It is an investment in the future, as companies train team members to have the skills for their next role, not only the role they’re in. Training allows organizations to offer avenues toward acquiring certifications that can be utilized on the job. Participants noted that it’s critical, when training teams, to ensure that the workforce is trained not only on the proper IT skills, but also on the clinical information they need to be successful. These training and education programs are the foundation for grooming needed skill sets for future talent pipelines.
  • Hire – Full time employees should be used to fill roles that will be needed long term. These individuals should possess the potential to grow within your organization, and possess the soft skills and business acumen to positively impact your strategic initiatives. The high demand for specialized skill sets pushes labor rates up, so a robust workforce plan should include full time and contingent hiring, as contingent hiring can often be a more affordable choice.
  • Contingent – A solid, robust plan around contingent labor is ideal and critical for surge support or to meet a particular need. A flexible, contingent model allows companies to utilize top contingent talent as a potential candidate pool for full time positions. Another benefit of the temporary workforce is the ability to fill in gaps or work for short periods of time on ad hoc projects. The flexible nature of the contingent workforce can be utilized in multiple ways, and can augment project teams and supplement for skill sets being used elsewhere.
  • Outsource – When fully defined and scoped projects are identified, outsourcing becomes a viable option. Releasing a project to a trusted vendor allows organizations to free resources for projects that need to be completed in house. However, it is critical to utilize a vendor that has proven methodologies and track record of successfully meeting goals, timelines and budgets to ensure that outcomes meet the stated objectives.

The flexible nature of the contingent workforce can be utilized in multiple ways, and can augment project teams and supplement for skill sets being used elsewhere.


With the critical nature of superior patient care at the center of the healthcare industry, organizations currently face unprecedented technology challenges. The ways in which medical records are stored and shared is critical, as providers and hospitals are focused on meeting the requirements around meaningful use. But, at the heart of this challenge is providing superior healthcare for patients on a daily basis. It is that goal that drives IT leaders toward meeting the technology challenges ahead. It is that focus that motivates top IT talent to test their professional limits on groundbreaking initiatives that will change healthcare today and into the future.

1 Medical News Today, 2004