Health information exchanges (HIEs) have plenty of openings for qualified IT workers, but tend to avoid graduates of federal training programs authorized by the HITECH Act. Those are among the conclusions of a new issue brief from the eHealth Initiative.
The organization's 2011 survey found that 255 HIEs exist in the U.S. A majority of the 196 HIEs that responded to the survey have five or fewer full-time employees that are dedicated to the initiative. Thirty-seven of the respondents have one or two job positions to fill, and 21 reported that they have three or more vacancies.
Considering how small the HIE staffs are, the study said, these vacancies represent a large unmet need for HIE employees. Moreover, 25 percent of HIEs reported they were short on staff with IT experience, especially in the area of clinical software implementation and support. Sixty-two percent of these HIEs noted that they were using consultants to fill that gap. And 87 HIEs said would hire consultants in lieu of full-time employees to meet their staff needs.
To increase the supply of health IT professionals, the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC) established a Health IT Workforce Development Program. This initiative encompasses a non-degree community college IT training program, a university-based program that grants advanced certification or master's degrees, curriculum development centers, and a competency examination program.
Only three of the responding exchanges said they'd hired people who were trained in the ONC workforce development program. Fifteen percent of the respondents said they planned to hire staff from the program; 28 percent of those who said they had inadequate IT staff intended to do so.
Still, questions have been raised about the competency of the community college program graduates, who receive only 6 months of training. Some hospital executives say they need people who have more IT and healthcare experience.
The government has said that 50,000 additional health IT workers will be needed just to implement EHRs in doctors' offices. In the context of that workforce requirement, the need of HIEs for a few hundred additional employees doesn't seem like a huge problem. But the fact that HIEs can't find enough suitable employees says a lot about industry perception of the community college program graduates.