Demand for Health IT Pros Intensifies With Stimulus Passage

According to Gartner analyst Barbara Gomolski, the recently signed U.S. stimulus package isn’t going to do much for corporate technology spending — with the exception of one sector: health care.

“[Since the stimulus package passed], I’ve talked to probably 20 CIOs, and none of them have mentioned the stimulus package,” said Gomolski, managing vice president at Gartner. “I think [it has] been obscured by the overall cash crunch, which a lot of companies are under.”

The exception is the $19 billion the government has committed to spending on technology to modernize health care. While the health care industry has steadily made investments in IT, many companies are hesitant to fully digitize because of the enormous monetary costs or because older health practitioners are reluctant to include technology in their work with patients, Gomolski said.

To help overcome these barriers, the stimulus package has set aside $17 billion to provide incentives for health care providers to adopt technology. This extra push may help them move past cost-related barriers, but the next step will be to get health care professionals to use the technology, Gomolski said.

“A challenge for a lot of the health care CIOs I’ve talked to [is]: ‘How do you get people to change the way they work?’ They’re used to manual charting and now you’re asking them to chart into a laptop. How do you get them to do that? There’s a lot of training, a lot of change management that goes with that.”

And this is where IT professionals will come in. They will be needed to help digitize records, as well as to help maintain data systems and keep information secure. The demand for health care IT professionals has been growing in recent years, and with the stimulus, that demand is sure to continue.

According to The Buffalo News, the health care IT stimulus measures “will create tens of thousands of jobs in information technology, informatics and other computer-related industries.”

To put it in more concrete terms, William Hersh, M.D., of Oregon Health and Science University, found in a 2008 study that the U.S. will need at least 40,000 additional health care IT professionals —almost 40 percent more than hospitals currently employ — for quality improvements and cost savings to be realized.

For professionals seeking to take advantage of this growing field, a number of training and certification programs are available. One certification option is the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS). This exam covers key topics in health care IT, including the health care environment; the analysis, design and security of systems; and administration.

Degree options include two programs through Capella University: a bachelor’s degree specialization in Health Informatics and a master’s specialization in Health Information Management. Another school with health IT programming is DeVry University, which offers an associate’s degree in Health Information Technology, as well as a bachelor’s in Technical Management with a Health Information Management (HIM) specialty.

With all of the money the federal government soon will be pouring into health care organizations — money that will, in turn, be channeled into IT — it seems you couldn’t find a better time to jump on the health care bandwagon.

– Mpolakowski, meaganp@certmag.com

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Meagan Polakowski

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