Health IT salaries fell 20% in 2017 even as executive compensation surged

Informatics and technology might be a huge pain point for hospitals, but most health IT professionals aren’t getting paid as much as they used to, according to a new survey.

On average, health IT professionals made just over $73,000 in 2017, a 20% decline from the previous year, according to survey data published by Health eCareers. The company, which connects healthcare employers with job seekers, surveyed nearly 20,000 professionals in the healthcare provider industry ranging from clinical staff to executives.

Informatics professionals were the hardest hit. Out of 724 survey respondents that identified themselves as health IT professionals, more than half indicated they worked specifically in healthcare informatics and data where the median salary was $46,000 annually, nearly $30,000 less than last year.

Aside from nursing support, which registered just two respondents, healthcare informatics professionals reported the lowest compensation among all health IT specialties. A 2015 survey by HIMSS showed health IT staff averaged $86,000 per year and associate staff made just over 69,000. 

There are a couple explanations for declining salaries. This year's survey included fewer IT executives, which are by far the highest-paid group. Thier absence drags down the average.

But part of that decline may also be attributed to hospitals and health systems paring back their use of consultants and hiring full-time staff at a cheaper price, according to Mike Silverstein, managing partner of healthcare IT and life sciences at Direct Recruiters Inc in Solon, Ohio. Most health systems have implemented an EHR and don’t need high-priced consultants to walk them through a complicated rollout.

“Health systems are going through upgrades and optimizations, but don’t need that same kind of talent they need to convert from one EMR to another,” Silverstein told FierceHealthcare.

Health IT executives have been shielded from that turmoil, notching a median salary of $150,250. But that figure was up from $127,500 in 2016. An executive with 6-10 years’ experience made $174,500 on average in 2017.

Project managers and app developers were also well-compensated, although both dropped slightly from the previous year. The median salary for a program or project manager was $94,000 in 2017 compared to 100,000 the previous year. But experience makes a difference—those with 6 to 10 years’ experience made nearly $110,000 on average, $30,000 more than those with 0-5 years.

Software and app developers brought home a median income of $84,000, down $1,000 from the previous year. Health IT managers and directors, on the other hand, reported a median salary of $77,550.

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Silverstein said “anyone with deep technical skills is still doing really well,” particularly in the software vendor space, where a rash of new companies backed by private funding are developing new solutions to complement the large EHR platforms.

“At the height of Meaningful Use, [hospitals] were spending their free cash on EMRs,” he said. “Now that everyone has an EMR, they are looking at how to get back that efficiency.”