Healthcare Analytics, Population Health Management, Healthcare Big Data

Quality & Governance News

Healthcare Orgs Struggle to Meet EHR, Big Data Workforce Needs

Healthcare providers are actively searching for big data professionals and health IT experts to help them optimize their EHRs and engage in population health management.

Big data analytics workforce

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- ORLANDO – Talent shortages, differing priorities, and a chronic inability to achieve ROI from electronic health records are leaving healthcare providers without the resources, staff, and direction they need to engage in more advanced population health management, big data analytics, and value-based care.

In the 2017 HIMSS Leadership and Workforce Survey, unveiled this week at the HIMSS Conference and Exhibition, stakeholders revealed some intriguing disparities between the priorities of healthcare providers and the consultants, vendors, and innovators who serve them. 

While consultants and vendors are focused on value-based care, connected health, precision medicine, and interoperability, many providers are still stuck on the basics of EHR optimization, data governance, and securing the staff they need to extract and analyze their stores of big data. 

For data scientists, EHR adoption experts, and health information management professionals seeking new opportunities, this is great news, says Lorren Pettit, Vice President of Health Information Systems and Research for HIMSS. 

“Health IT continues to be a bright spot in the US economy,” he said. “Health IT workers continue to see strong demand for their skills, as employers across the provider and vendor/consultant spectrum embrace various health IT strategic initiatives." 

But for provider organizations trying to leverage their health IT infrastructure for quality improvement, gaps in their abilities to develop strong leadership teams is slowing down progress. 

Only 38 percent of healthcare providers said they are fully staffed for their health IT needs.  Forty-three percent of providers have vacant positions they are actively looking to fill.  They have the money to spend -  56 percent are expecting IT budget increases in 2017 – but talent is hard to find. 

Consultants and vendors are even less well equipped to handle the surge of interest in data analytics and health IT.  Despite a general reputation for higher salaries and plenty of perks, vendors and consulting agencies have even bigger staff deficits to manage.   

More than sixty percent of vendors and consultants are recruiting new health IT workers, and close to ninety percent are planning to increase their staffing budgets in order to attract top talent. 

However, vendors and consultants may be struggling to nab clients due to a disconnect between their areas of interest and what healthcare organizations truly need. 

EHR optimization is still a primary concern for hospitals and other care providers, second only to patient safety and quality outcomes in their minds.   

The finding closely mirrors another recent industry poll, conducted by CHIME and KPMG in January, in which 38 percent of providers said EHR optimization would continue to be top of mind for the next three years. 

Privacy and security, care coordination, population health management, and compliance and risk management also ranked highly as topics of importance for the provider community. 

EHR and big data priority gaps between vendors and providers

Source: HIMSS

Vendors and providers aren't insurmountably far apart on some key areas, however.  Both groups are keenly interested in developing a "culture of care" and ensuring that health data remains private and secure.   

Despite broad concerns about a number of health IT functions critical to operational efficiency, many providers lack the executive leaders that can be instrumental in guiding an organization through troubled big data waters. 

Hospitals are singificantly more likely than ambulatory providers to have data savvy executives on staff.  Eighty-seven percent of hospitals have a CIO compared to just 58 percent of ambulatory organizations.  Just 29 percent of ambulatory providers have a senior clinical IT leader, such as a chief medical information officer or a chief nursing informatics officer. 

Thirty-two percent of ambulatory practices and the same number of long-term care facilities did not employ any type of senior IT leader. 

Yet management and coordination skills are in extremely high demand as providers try to push forward with health IT development.   

From 2014 to 2017, hospitals increased their project management hires by 22 percent, and expanded the clinical informatics and systems integration workforce by 16 and 17 percent respectively.   

Hospitals and ambulatory providers are working strenuously to overcome the challenges of developing existing IT staff, recruiting new experts to their organizations, and retaining qualified data experts in order to prevent putting important projects on hold.  More than a third of provider organizations said they were forced to delay a project in 2016 due to staffing shortfalls. 

For experienced health IT workers, the employment landscape looks bright, HIMSS said.  Healthcare providers will need to start getting more competitive in order to attract top talent to help them move beyond fundamentals of fine-tuning their EHRs and start embracing population health and more innovative big data analytics projects. 

"Buoyed by expectations that IT budgets for both provider and vendor/consulting organizations will grow or at least remain the same this coming year, health IT workers should be able to expect their services to continue to be in demand," the survey concluded. 

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