The HCIT Labor Shortage. WHAT??

Nov. 10, 2009
It's no secret that someone hit the “pause” button.

As the economy has tanked, hospital and physician IT contracts have stalled. Projects with prior commitments have mostly proceeded, but at a slower, drawn out pace. Discussions of new systems or projects have fallen largely on deaf ears, unless they've been related to EHRs or interoperability, and even then, it's often been just talk.

It's been no better in the payor world. Declining enrollments and increasing loss ratios have put financial restrictions on IT spending. At the same time, the need to overhaul or replace core administration systems, such as claims and care management, has caused additional anxiety…especially given the possibility of covering much of the currently uninsured population.

As a group, the HIT vendors have felt these effects flow down to them. The larger firms have had layoffs while some smaller firms, often the incubators of innovation, have had trouble getting funded.

But this is beginning to change, and many believe the change could be dramatic. For the HIT executive, this belief provides less comfort than it should. The current HIT labor pool, with its excess capacity, hides a latent disconnect between human capital supply and demand.

The scenario is this: as things loosen up and contracts begin to get signed, there will be a snowball effect. There will be a rush for implementations and pressure to compress implementation timeframes. Once the waiting stops, everything will become urgent. The classic liberation of pent-up demand.

This of course will be exacerbated by the perception, if not reality, of David Blumenthal's recent remarks at the annual American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) convention. The National Coordinator of Health Information Technology predicted 50,000 new HIT jobs will be created as a result of the ARRA.

As HIT comes roaring out of this state of suspended animation, we will likely face a shortage of high quality talent, reminiscent of the Y2K programmer shortage. Providers, payors, vendors, and consulting firms will compete for accomplished project managers, implementation consultants, business analysts, and maybe even programmers.

The reactive HIT executive may be left wondering where the legions of “available” talent went. The forward thinking HIT executive will look to get talent lined up now for the coming boom. Managing this can be tricky, but waiting until the bandwagon gets rolling could be a strategic mistake.

Jim Gibson has been in healthcare for 25 years. In 2002 he founded Gibson Consultants after several years in healthcare IT and group health insurance. Gibson Consultants is a national search firm specializing in healthcare IT companies. Like Jim, the other professionals of Gibson Consultants enjoyed successful healthcare careers before turning to executive search. (203) 431-1536 or [email protected]. www.gibson-consultants.com/

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