Successfully Hiring Health IT Talent

Kathleen Raven|28.8.2018

Healthcare providers need to continually integrate and analyze patient data to provide quality care while reducing costs. Organizations that manage to recruit and retain the brightest minds in IT will keep a competitive edge.

Photos: Getty images

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For healthcare providers around the world, the past decade marked a definite transition from patient information stored on paper to a reliance on electronic health records.[1] This significant switch to an IT infrastructure was a long time coming. Experts point to the healthcare sector’s deep complexity and patient privacy concerns as just a couple of explanations for the industry’s slower pace toward adopting and embracing IT.

Statistics support this trend. While the global healthcare IT market is expected to grow strongly in the coming years,[2] this also applies to the demand for IT personnel. According to projections of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S., the number of health information technicians will increase by 13% until 2026, which is almost twice the average growth rate of all other occupations.[3] The World Economic Forum predicts a similar trend on a global scale in its overall healthcare jobs outlook data.[4]
Depending on the organization’s size, healthcare providers may need software developers, IT security architects, data scientists, artificial intelligence specialists, in addition to IT leadership. Indeed, as a 2018 survey of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society reports, hospitals, as well as vendors, anticipate that chief information officers and technology officers will have increasing influence over strategic decisions and spending.[5]

At the same time, some growing pains seem apparent. “Now more than ever, sourcing and hiring skilled healthcare professionals is a major challenge,” said Kevin Walker of the worldwide job website Indeed at the People in Healthcare Summit 2018 in San Diego in the U.S.[6] This diagnosis may apply in particular to health IT. Thus, most European healthcare IT professionals believe that their organizations underfund IT budgets.[7] Since many industries are being swept up in digital transformations, there is a highly competitive landscape for top talent. Healthcare organizations must compete against start-ups, as well as giant tech companies with deep pockets, like Google or Alibaba in China, which can often pay much higher salaries.

AHIMA and HIMSS looked at channels for recruiting IT staff.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) looked at channels for recruiting IT staff.

The average base salary of a data scientist in the U.S., for instance, is currently $121,000.[8] Outsourcing IT to external companies may require even higher resources than hiring full-time employees. On the other hand, as healthcare providers increasingly rely on information systems to improve patient care and lower costs, underfunding IT staff and infrastructure now could hurt the bottom line later.
However, there are other non-financial challenges in hiring health IT talent. For example, providers often report difficulties in finding candidates who have not only technical skills, but also healthcare-specific experience and a cultural fit to the organization.[9]

To overcome these challenges, healthcare providers should create innovative work environments and career opportunities with intangible benefits, many experts believe. One particular advantage that sets the healthcare industry apart from Silicon Valley start-ups or the finance industry is its mission-driven purpose to improve human health. “As for many employers in our sector, it is relatively easy to create a strong sense of purpose due to the immediate impact of effective healthcare on the greater good of society,” emphasized André Heinz, Global Head of Human Resources at Siemens Healthineers, in a blog post for[10]

In addition, to attract IT staff and leaders, it is decisive for hospitals to be seen as a tech-friendly environment, with access to latest technology and opportunities to work on different projects at once. Learning opportunities, a flexible work environment and working on cutting-edge projects are all key. Continuing education for employees who are already with an organization matters just as much.[11] Not least, providers should meet the needs of female employees, who are among the brightest minds in healthcare IT,[12] by offering, for example, flexible or compressed work schedules and paid maternity leave.

A general requirement for healthcare organizations to recruit and retain talented personnel is a culture of autonomy. For example, an integrated home care program in The Netherlands, called Buurtzorg, relies on self-directed teams of nurses who manage their actions independently through an award-winning web application, thereby avoiding a lot of traditional administrative work found in home care agencies.[13] Indeed, the program achieved to reduce costs by approximately 20% through the user-friendly IT platform. It may be exactly this combination of an innovative HR strategy with investment in IT staff and infrastructure, which will pay off in healthcare.

Kathleen Raven is a freelance writer based in New Haven, Connecticut. Her work has been featured in Nature Medicine and Reuters Health.