Misconceptions About the Health IT Workforce
By Helen Figge, R.Ph, Pharm.D.
There are many misconceptions out there about workforce development in healthcare IT today. As technologies become introduced into the various healthcare settings to support quality healthcare, it is always assumed that one needs an advanced certification, advanced degree, and advanced resources to implement and support these technologies.
Well, yes and no. For viability if nothing else, these added career efforts are valuable, but truly viable workforce development plans in healthcare IT need to evolve and grow from the bottom up. You don’t make a cake by starting to put the sprinkles together before baking a solid foundation – the cake. The same holds true in the workforce of healthcare IT today.
Many now understand that the backbone to the evolution of the demand for “skilled “workforce today is due in most part to the electronic health record (EHR). Thanks to visionaries like Glen Tullman who positioned the EHR front and center in healthcare discussions, the healthcare market now realizes that the real need in the workforce today involves an understanding of the implementing, programming, interconnecting, and relationship of the EHR to clinician workflow.
One of the backbones to any workforce development plan is continuing education in helping to shape and evolve the IT workforce. Continuing education programs commonly exist for physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. However, there is very little formal infrastructure in place to provide continuing education to the IT workforce. A true educational program for any workforce entity that is sustainable and viable long-term needs to understand the “how” and “why” of the tasks at hand and then educate from that vantage point.
How would you measure true workforce healthcare IT success? That is yet to be determined, but for all practical purposes, if you don’t understand clinician and healthcare workflow from its various angles and nuances, then you won’t be able to create a viable and competent overall workforce to support the needs out there today. The future of the health IT workforce rests in the hands of those clinicians that adopt the technologies, and in turn, the measurement of success will depend on having critical knowledge about the exact needs of these end users. There is no substitute for knowledge past to bring in the future direction.
The most realistic approach for a viable workforce development program is for organizations to recruit to their organizations and then create loyalty factors for the employees. This in turn provides a base of employees that an organization can draw from for an expanded workforce need. No one really knows the future skills needed in the healthcare workforce, but if an employee can use an iPad or their Android, then they have the potential to learn healthcare IT.
The wave of the healthcare future is mobile applications. You would be surprised how many individuals out there use technologies for various purposes that are non health-related. To get a trained workforce in healthcare IT, maybe we train these individuals through “gaming” learning from such gaming wizards like John Gomez, former CTO for Eclipsys.
Organizations should consider grooming from within and cultivate the talents of motivated employees to fill the voids being felt in today’s healthcare IT marketplace to fill the immediate voids, but also helping to create loyalty programs and career transition pathways for employees. Also, you would be surprised how many prior work experiences are much underestimated in the workplace today. Consider engaging individuals who might have soft and transferable skill sets from other previous positions, encourage them to create new ideas for the healthcare workforce and develop opportunities for long term employment.
There is no nirvana in the formula for developing a healthcare workforce, because if there were one, we would not be hearing endless complaints about not finding “qualified staff” for vacant positions. Groom from within, because healthcare is a forever changing process. It has to be because medicine is an evolving entity, so the skills we are seeking out now may be obsolete in a few years, but if you invest in the person from the ground up, the cake is well baked, so when it’s time for the sprinkles, the final product will look just right.
Helen Figge, BS, PharmD, MBA, CPHIMS, FHIMSS is a principal with Figge Workforce Development.