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IT Staffing for Healthcare: Recruiting for HITECH

IT Staffing for Healthcare: Recruiting for HITECH

By: Heather Boerner

Just a year ago, one in four medical practices offered any kind of electronic health records (EHRs) to their patients. By the end of 2012, however, that ratio will have changed significantly.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) mandates a full roll-out of EHRs by 2014. Healthcare employers who do not fulfill the requirement face cuts in Medicare reimbursements.

With the stakes so high, it’s no surprise that some have predicted a healthcare hiring shortfall of 50,000 healthcare IT workers in the next few years.

Yet IT recruitment for HITECH is not so simple. It requires that hiring managers recruit — not just for tech skills — but also for clinical, change management and other surprising job skills that don’t necessarily include EHR certification.

“Healthcare IT is different than IT,” says Pamela Lane, vice president of health informatics at the California Hospital Foundation. “Complying with HITECH is not about IT. IT is a component, but so is workflow redesign, data analysis and many other things.”

In other words, healthcare IT staffing for HITECH is about more than computers.

Searching for Multi-talented IT Talent
As a career development specialist at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., Virginia Lankes fields requests from healthcare hiring managers of all stripes.

For HITECH recruitment, she finds that hiring managers are looking for data analysts with community outreach skills, project managers with leadership and IT skills and IT staff with clinical experience.

“There are so many settings for EHRs that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” she says. “It depends on the employer.”

The healthcare IT outsourcing company CareTech Solutions requires clinical experience for all its new IT hires, says Kim Whitman, CareTech’s vice president of human resources.

Thomas Yackel , MD and head of medical informatics at Oregon Health and Science University Medical Center, looks for healthcare IT staff among clinicians. Yackel taps current staff and the hospital’s informatics residencies and preceptorships.

“It’s easier,” he says, “to train people on the IT side than to take someone who doesn’t understand how an operating room works and teach them that.”

Tapping the Graduate Pipeline
Just as some have partnered with schools to retain their health care professionals, some healthcare organizations have formed strong bonds with local universities to find the right talent for HITECH jobs, creating a pipeline of candidates with tailor-made training.

CareTech, for instance, works closely with Detroit-based universities such as Walsh College and the local chapter of the University of Phoenix to tailor curriculum to their needs. Recruiters will often sit in on these classes to assess which candidates will be successful in their jobs.

CareTech then provides part-time internships to potential new hires while they’re still in school. Most of these people, Whitman says, are midcareer workers who are taking classes at night or on weekends.

“Our average new hires have seven years in the industry. So we’re getting people with experience as well as up-to-date training.”

Consider Nontraditional Candidates
Unlike hospitals, not every healthcare organization requires clinical experience for their HITECH hires.

County health departments, for instance, may need a data analyst who is also outgoing enough to do community outreach. Consultancies may need IT staff who can also be good leaders and who are willing to travel.

Across all these positions, some surprising job skills can be just as important as having a computer science degree.

Whitman, for instance, has begun to recruit communications majors — with and without IT training — as IT project coordinators.

“If you can’t communicate verbally and in writing, you fail from the start,” she says. “Some clients are willing to take that risk to train the person in their system once they’re there.”

A More Timely Recruiting Process
Not long ago, some healthcare companies may have held out on filling a position until they found a perfect candidate. With HITECH, that’s changed, says Boston-based account manager Jessica Doherty of Queen Associates.

Doherty finds that the IT staffing shortage means that employer must act more quickly with healthcare hiring decisions.

“Organizations are a little more flexible with their rates and the skillset they’re looking for now,” she says.

They’re also offering incentives, from robust 401(k) plans to tuition reimbursement.

“IT staff wants to be trained. They want to know what new version is coming from the vendor,” says Whitman. Her company keeps funds on hand specifically to send hires for additional certifications.

“The more we invest in training, the stronger our hiring and employee retention numbers are.”

Look for Agile Candidates
While the demands of HITECH hiring have increased the need to recruit and hire candidates more quickly, it has also increased the need to scrutinize a candidate’s job skills, employee productivity and ability to manage change, says Lane, of the California Hospital Association. 

She recommends asking candidates about their ability to both create and adapt to change in the business environment early on in the interview process.

“The goal of HITECH is to transform healthcare. It’s about safety. It’s about availability of data. It’s about reducing healthcare costs. It’s about multiple layers of ingenuity. It’s about trying to get busy people to change the way they do something,” she says.

“If they look at you like you’re speaking Greek when you ask these interview questions, they aren’t the right candidate.”