Blumenthal: Federal program will ease IT worker shortage

Worried that you won't have enough IT staff to complete an EMR implementation toward achieving "meaningful use," or perhaps making the conversion to ICD-10 coding? National health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal wants you to relax.

"Help is not only on the way--it's here," Blumenthal says in his latest public letter, touting the $84 million federal Health IT Workforce Development Program.

"In fact the data indicate a shortfall over the next five years of about 50,000 qualified health IT workers required to meet the needs of health professionals and hospitals as they move to adopt EHRs. As one vendor recently said, what we need is a 'small army,'" Blumenthal writes, acknowledging the extent of the problem. But he says the federal training effort will alleviate 85 percent of the shortage.

He notes that the University of Texas at Austin, a beneficiary of some of the government funding, recently graduated its first class of health information management and exchange specialists, and that the school will add three more health IT certificate programs next year. "Right now, most of the graduates are looking to enter--or have already entered--the health IT workforce. Graduates are landing jobs with consulting firms, software vendors, technical assistance companies, and healthcare providers," Blumenthal writes.

From outside Washington, we see that the IT field in general is booming. According to Menlo Park, Calif.-based IT placement firm Robert Half Technology, starting salaries for IT professionals should increase by 3.4 percent in 2011, and healthcare has a large role in that projected growth. "We've seen a strong demand for IT professionals, from developers to help desk, to assist with the conversion to electronic medical records," John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology, says in a press release.

To learn more:
- read Blumenthal's letter
- see this Healthcare IT News story
- take a look at this Robert Half Technology press release