Shortage of Health IT Workers Worsens

Federal incentives haven't offset the shortfalls.

The health IT staffing shortage is getting worse, most acutely for technicians qualified to implement and maintain clinical software, a new survey shows.

The survey, conducted in July by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, found that 67 percent of health IT executives reported staffing shortages, compared with 59 percent two years earlier. For clinical software implementation, the figure was 76 percent, up from 70 percent in 2010.

Only 12 percent of chief information officers responding to the survey reported hiring graduates of the new Health IT Workforce Development program, under which students can achieve non-degree health IT training in six months or less at community colleges and universities. It was unclear why the numbers weren’t higher, although respondents said they were least likely to hire applicants with health IT education but no experience working in the field.

“Even with two years of focused attention on implementing electronic health records at the nation’s hospitals, in response to federal incentives, it’s clear that staffing is a significant concern for IT executives,” Randy McCleese, chief information officer at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Ky., said in a CHIME news release.

The  continued push to meet federal targets for meaningful use of electronic health records, as well as the switch to a new medical coding system called ICD-10, will continue to stress the health-care IT workforce through at least 2014, he said.

As staffing shortages continue, concern over retention is growing, the survey indicted. While 76 percent of CIOs responding to the survey in 2010 registered concern over retention, the proportion grew to 85 percent this year, according to the news release. That may be because the number of health IT projects, including regional and state health information exchanges, continues to expand, CHIME said.

The most common means of dealing with staffing shortages was to hire contract IT specialists, according to the survey.

One bright spot: Fewer CIOs worry that staffing shortages will endanger their meaningful use incentive payments. While 70 percent registered that concern in 2010, the number dropped to 59 percent this year.