Health system executives taking part in the recent HealthLeaders Healthcare Workforce of the Future event cite the challenges to staffing an IT department and the rewards in advancing new ideas.
Workforce shortages in healthcare aren't limited to the clinical ranks. Healthcare organizations are also seeing challenges in keeping their IT departments staffed.
Due in part to the pandemic, health systems are adopting (and adapting to) much more technology than they have in the past, from complex electronic health record and imaging platforms to digital health and telehealth tools. They're now facing much more competition than they've seen in the past, including stand-alone clinics, telehealth and virtual health vendors, retail giants like Amazon, Google, and Walmart, and other health systems looking to take their patients.
But executives taking part in the recent HealthLeaders HealthCare Workforce of the Future roundtable, noted there are advantages that make working in healthcare IT an attractive career.
"When we look at talent, we look for those who are wanting to have the culture that we offer, are wanting to work in person, or have a hybrid model because no matter what we offer," said William Manzie, administrative director of telehealth and telehealth strategy at the Memorial Healthcare System in Florida. "If a millennial or someone who just came out of college wants to work from home and make over $200,000 a year, then we're just not the organization for you. We're doing everything right in terms of promoting our culture, promoting growth, promoting opportunities to potential applicants, and that has allowed us to bring in additional talent, but also use our existing talent and grow them for the positions that we're hiring for."
Manzie was joined in this panel by Scott Richert, chief information officer at Mercy, which includes the nation's first "hospital without beds," and Craig Richardville, MBA, chief digital and information officer for Intermountain Healthcare.
Richert pointed out that as the healthcare industry evolves, IT departments have evolved as well, from helping staff with simple installations and downloads to maintaining an integrated technical platform capable of scaling up and out as needed.
"We're … shifting that mindset from order-taker into a solution partner, and really guiding the organization through a digital roadmap that would help them understand how we're going to scale differently and how we're going to be able to provide care without so much labor in the past," he said. "I think we're now setting a vision for what's possible with digital and partnering more with the organization. That's brought different types of people and skill sets into my organization."
Richardville said the pandemic has highlighted the value of being able to work remotely, even from home. This means he can look a lot farther out for IT talent.
"I think it's here to stay," he said of the hybrid work environment. "And I think that provides a great opportunity … because we could even recruit from around the country, and in some cases around the globe, for talent."
But that can work both ways.
"We have to watch it," Richert said. "With all of our Epic expertise, there's a hospital in New York City that found four of my good Epic people and said, 'We'll pay New York City wages and [you can] just sit in your Missouri home and you'll be fine. So that dimension is there, [and] we have to be aware of it, but we also have to make sure that we take advantage of it ourselves."
Richert pointed out that working in healthcare is different than working in retail, and that culture may help in securing IT talent.
"We're a faith-based organization, and I know the impact of walking amongst the caregivers and being in the hospital lobby and seeing neighbors come through," he said. "It really bonds me to the mission of the organization and the fact that a lot of … our IT coworkers came through the healthcare career path. And so, their identity is with the Mercy organization, [even if] there are other places to make more money than in our organization. We've always had a real strong culture."
"For me, it's probably more about being a professional parent and telling people I'm here to grow and develop you," Richardville said. "[I'm going] to give you challenges and if you're with me for a year, two years, three years, I'm here to grow your résumé, to make you more valuable, hopefully to me, but if not to me, to somebody else."
"I've got 12 CIOs or CDOs in the industry that used to work for me, and I'm just privileged that those people have grown," he added. "It's really [about saying] 'I'll give you the challenge, I'll grow your résumé, I'll make you more valuable to the market, and if I'm able to keep you I'll just continue that. But if there are other opportunities somewhere else, I'm here to help you capture those as well so you can fulfill your life goals.'"
Manzie, like the others, also pointed out that the IT department is changing as the healthcare industry moves from testing and adoption of new technology to scaling and sustaining the best platforms and services. And part of the process is in helping clinical staff understand and embrace these new tools.
"We don't just jump right into a new technology or jump right into the next shiny thing that comes out on the market," he said. "Actually, sadly, it takes us a long time to make a change and be innovative. [Adopting] new telehealth and virtual technologies happens at a slower pace, which allows the existing staff to learn that new skill set, drive some of that change, and manage some of the tasks or the people involved with that change."
"To me that feels like a whole different partnership [and] engagement model with the organization," Richert added. "We're finding key challenges and key areas within the healthcare operations that are embracing that, saying 'this is great, let's do more.' I'm excited over the next few years that we're going to be able to bring those kinds of skills."
"I think it continues to mature and evolve," Richardville said. "We are here to serve and those that we serve are those on the business side and the clinical side. From that standpoint, we've got to make sure that we understand that we aren't doing technology because it's cool, and it's fancy, and it's kind of neat, but we actually have measurable outcomes that are happening at the end and we're helping our caregivers provide a higher quality product, a better patient experience, at maybe a more efficient, effective way."
"And that's what we're here to do," he concluded. "I think that part of our job is to continue to educate so that people know that those things are out there and aren't threatened. We need to engage, make that part of us, with more ideas and thought leadership. It can't just come out of technology; it's got to come out of the people that are actually doing the work."
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“I think we're now setting a vision for what's possible with digital, and partnering more with the organization. That's brought different types of people and skill sets into my organization.”
— Scott Richert, Chief Information Officer, Mercy
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.
Healthcare organizations looking to attract and keep IT talent are facing stiff competition from several competitors, including telehealth companies, payers, other health systems looking to increase their patient base, and retail giants like Amazon, Google and Walmart.
They're also noticing a change in how an IT department is developed, as healthcare embraces innovative tools and technologies and the strategy shifts from helping people get online to scaling and expanding new programs and becoming comfortable with digital health.
While acknowledging that today's hospital IT department may be a stepping stone for people looking to move on, executives also say the healthcare industry offers unique benefits, including a tight-knit culture and the opportunity to work for an organization that improves health and saves lives.