Medical informatics emerges as a burgeoning job market.
By John Moore | June 2008
Medical informatics combines healthcare and information technology in an emerging field that is generating a growing demand for IT professionals. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are pursuing a variety of IT initiatives, from implementing back-office financial systems to creating clinical solutions that track the administration of medications and manage medical imagery.
Two of the more prominent areas within health IT (HIT) are electronic health records (EHRs) and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems. An EHR seeks to replace a patient’s paper documentation with digital records. CPOE systems automate the process of ordering tests, procedures and medicines.
Government, Industry Momentum
The federal government is working to ensure that most Americans possess EHRs by 2014, with states and insurance companies also calling for healthcare automation. For example, Minnesota has mandated the use of EHR systems by hospitals and healthcare providers by 2015, according to the state’s Department of Health. Earlier this year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced a policy that requires hospitals to deploy CPOE to participate in incentive payment programs after 2012.
Researcher Health Industry Insights recently cited government initiatives and pay-for-performance incentives as factors behind the growth of the healthcare IT market. The company projects U.S. healthcare IT spending will grow at a rate of 7.5 percent in the provider segment this year.
How does this spending translate into jobs? An Oregon Health & Science University report, published in April, suggests the adoption of increasingly sophisticated IT systems increases the need for technologists specializing in health.
“The need for IT professionals in HIT settings is large and will increase as more advanced systems are implemented,” the study notes. “There are substantial career opportunities for a wide variety of professionals.”
But while demand grows, HIT talent appears to be in short supply. The Oregon study estimates the current U.S. workforce at 108,390 full-time equivalents. But for the country to meet its HIT agenda, an additional 40,784 FTEs will be required, the report says. Against that backdrop, some healthcare industry organizations are at work increasing the population of HIT workers. The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), for example, launched the “10×10” program, which aims to train 10,000 healthcare professionals in applied health and medical informatics by 2010. According to the organization’s Web site, AMIA conducts the training across the U.S. in conjunction with informatics education partners.
While hospitals will account for part of HIT hiring, technology vendors and service providers targeting the healthcare space represent additional sources for jobs. Vendors hire personnel with HIT backgrounds to develop, sell and deploy their wares.
Similarly, IT service providers staff up to meet healthcare client needs. For example, hospitals may outsource all of their IT needs to such companies. Tenet Healthcare Corp., for instance, has a longstanding outsourcing arrangement with Perot Systems Corp. Under the contract, Perot Systems manages the information systems function for all 54 Tenet hospitals, the company says.
Even hospitals that undertake some of their own IT tasks often opt to outsource specialized IT functions. Clark Easterling, vice president of product marketing at Perimeter eSecurity, a managed security services firm, said healthcare has the potential to become his company’s second largest vertical market. A hospital would need five to eight full-time employees to staff a 24/7 IT security unit, he notes. Typically, hospitals typically don’t want to run such operations themselves. “This is a specialized, staff-intensive field, so hospitals want to outsource it,” Easterling observes.
And that means Permieter must staff-up to meet the demand. Multiply that situation by the hundreds – if not thousands – of specialized IT firms serving healthcare, and you’ve got a pretty healthy hiring outlook in medical informatics.
John Moore is a technology and business writer based in Massachusetts.