The EMR recruiting crisis

I doubt anyone reading FierceHealthIT objects to the idea of federal subsidies for EMR adoption. After all, if legislators want to see broad EMR use, offering grants, loans or expanded tax advantages for EMR investment is merely putting their money where their mouth is.

But will financial incentives solve the problem? My take, in short, is "no." As I see it, biggest obstacle to building a national, interoperable, efficient EMR network isn't money, but talent. Where on earth will thousands of hospitals and scores of medical practices find the corps of specialized IT experts needed to successfully integrate an EMR into their clinical operations?

As readers already know, recruiting IT talent for healthcare organizations is costly and time-consuming. When you consider that EMR implementation is a specialty within a specialty, your recruiting prospects start to look a bit, well, grim.

And don't count on new college grads to solve the problem. Even as things stand today, we'll need 6,000 health information management professionals each year through 2010, but schools are only turning out 2,000 per year, according to AHIMA figures. And worse, the number of students enrolling in HIM programs is falling, the trade group says.

OK, I'll admit, smaller medical practices will probably squeak by with the same consultants that implemented their practice management system. And big health systems will probably have the resources to bring expert help on board. But what about the huge mass of mid-market organizations?

Mid-sized medical practices and community hospitals won't have the luxury of implementing an inexpensive, feature-poor system that can be tacked onto existing systems in days or weeks. They simply can't afford to do that; while they're not giants, they're seeing too many patients to risk rolling out kludgeware. But they're also going to be in a poor position to compete with the larger players for the specialists.

So, in all this deliberation on the Hill and in state legislatures, maybe it's time for lawmakers to fund more programs training IT pros on the ins and outs of clinical data sharing.

They could subsidize the heck out of schools with large corps of promising IT undergrads that are willing to offer a clinical information systems program. They could offer to pay for EMR-focused education in exchange for commitments to work in areas where IT staffers are in short supply. They could create special grant programs to fund experienced pros who want to become EMRs pros.

Hey, they could just start by publicly acknowledging the problem...that when it comes to building a national EMR network, it will take more than hardware and software to get the job done. - Anne