Why Don't Enough People Want to Work in Health IT?

Jack Murtha
AUGUST 15, 2018
health it career,what is health it,medical it,hca news

In what industry can you make good money, work on the bleeding edge of technological innovation and help save lives? Another hint: The job outlook is bright, with growth slated to continue at least through the next decade or so. And a final clue: Almost no one in the United States has even considered working in the field.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s health IT — and, more broadly, healthcare services administration.

>> READ: In Cleveland, Health Tech Brings Hopes of Economic, Human Development

For years, advocates and experts have warned of the existing and growing shortage of health IT professionals. (Go back to 2010 to see these concerns (PDF), even at a time when the country was still reeling from the Great Recession.) They pointed to an aging population, the rise of electronic health records (EHRs), new government requirements and an across-the-board explosion in healthcare-centered tech as drivers of the market. Healthcare leaders, meanwhile, told industry observers that they struggled to find the right people for these increasingly complex jobs.

Unfortunately, the problem persists today. Go to any health-tech conference and talk to health system executives, and you’ll no doubt hear a few gripes about the puzzling challenge of filling these pivotal roles.

So why is the industry failing to attract a sufficient number of people to follow a rewarding, stable, lucrative career path?

A new University of Phoenix survey of 2,000 U.S. adults suggests the problem is deeply rooted in our society, with 70 percent having never contemplated entering healthcare services administration, a wide field that encompasses health IT. That’s a stark majority — a figure that, even if inflated, should sound an alarm. How can smart young people contribute to the evolution of healthcare if they don’t even know it’s an option?

Of that group, 17 percent claimed they don’t think they have the right skills for the field, and 18 percent said they refused to head back to college to get the proper degree. Taken on their face, these statements fall under the “fair enough” category. But the University of Phoenix folks — who are, no doubt, trying to use this survey to get people to enroll in their healthcare admin programs — argued that these problems are also born of ignorance.

“What people do not realize is that there are a number of hard and soft skills that are transferrable across industries and that many are directly applicable to roles within health services administration, including people skills, certain technical capabilities and, most importantly, a willingness to learn and good ‘old-fashioned’ hard work,” claimed Mark Johannsson, M.P.H., a doctor of health science who heads the university’s health services administration school.

Still, it’s clear that a mid-career professional can’t simply jump into health IT without making some big decisions.

What’s striking, however, is that the survey goes on to again highlight the public’s lack of knowledge of healthcare services administration. For example, 19 percent of respondents never heard of the title “health information manager,” while just 13 percent were very familiar with it. The ratios were similar when it came to digital/tech program managers, medical records programmers and several other administrative gigs.

Finally, a cause for optimism: Of the 70 percent of adults who hadn’t thought about entering the field, 18 percent said they might be interested. More than 40 percent said they’d need to learn more about growth opportunities, 38 percent said they’d want to see how many jobs are available and 35 percent said they’d have to better understand which positions exist.

So there is hope.

Health IT professionals earn more money in this industry than in others, which gives healthcare an advantage that it lacks when it comes to recruiting data scientists. There is room to grow and push boundaries, to explore the cutting edge and the upper limits of your strengths. Health IT, even more than other corners of healthcare services administration, is a good place to be.

But healthcare leaders and health IT evangelists need to work harder to get the word out. The message doesn’t mean much if it’s not reaching the right people.

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