The increasing utilization of EHRs and health information exchange (HIE) that has been spurred by an unprecedented level of government funding for health IT could represent an untapped market for both job creation and market savings, according to the eHealth Initiative (eHI).
“To make use of this technology, employees will require skills in integrating the system within a clinical environment, maintaining the security of identifiable health information, assisting in the ongoing development of the system to meet the requirements of meaningful use and analyzing electronic data to improve patient outcomes,” stated the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit health IT advocate in a brief.
To meet the demand for health IT professionals created by increased adoption rates, the Office of the National Coordinator for Heath IT (ONC) is spending $120 million on the Health IT Workforce Development Program, which supports the establishment of health IT training programs at different levels of academia in a variety of academic and non-academic centers, according to the eHI's issue brief.
To learn how federal investments in health IT might increase employment, eHI researchers examined answers to questions regarding workforce and employment in its 2011 HIE survey and developed four key conclusions:
1. There are many job opportunities at HIEs.
The eHI survey identified a total of 255 HIEs nationwide and received responses from 196 of them, with 37 reporting one to two vacancies to fill and 21 reporting more than three vacancies. The issue brief noted that because HIEs' operations are generally comprised of a small workforce, each organizations’ vacancy could represent half of its workforce.
2. Vacancies go unfilled due to lack of qualified candidates .
More than a quarter of respondents reported they were short on staff with IT experience and 62 percent reported they would hire consultants in lieu of qualified employees.
3. HIEs rely on consultants .
A majority of HIEs are already using consultants, are generally pleased with the services consultants provide and usually spent less than $100,000 on consulting services during the fiscal year. On a five-point scale with one being “very satisfied” and five being “not satisfied," HIEs gave an average score of 1.96 to the consulting services they received, with 57 respondents reporting they were very satisfied and only four HIEs responding they were not satisfied. Additionally, although 16 HIEs spent more than $500,000 on consulting services, 73 spent less than $100,000 and 51 spent less than $50,000.
4. Few HIEs have gone through the ONC development program for employees .
Although more than 25 percent of HIEs faced staffing shortages, only three HIEs hired employees through the ONC program, most HIEs reported being unsure whether or not they would use the program and only 28 percent of HIEs with staffing shortages reported plans to use the program.
Based on those findings, the issue brief suggested that the ONC work more closely with HIEs to learn what skills are necessary, increase the visibility of its workforce development program and encourage HIEs to provide training apart from education received elsewhere.
Access eHI's report .