Panel: Health IT professional shortfall underestimated

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BOSTON--A projected shortage of some 50,000 health IT professionals in the United States is most likely an underestimate by the federal government, according to a panel discussion at the Connected Health Symposium on Thursday.

Panelists John Glaser, MD, vice president and chief imaging officer for Partners HealthCare; Eileen Sporing, chief nursing officer at Children’s Hospital Boston; and Andrew Vaz, national director of life sciences at Deloitte Consulting, shared a bevy of professional insights on current health IT market trends and its future direction.

Andrews said he believes that a projected shortage of 50,000 health IT professionals underestimates the market need by about 20 to 30 percent.

Vaz said that offshoring and emerging markets in China will contribute to an IT explosion “to win the war in talent.” Sporing said computer scientists are going to have to help providers expand the role of health IT in the future. Glaser acknowledged that the American Recovery and Reimbursement Act (ARRA) will force health IT professionals to hit the ground running when meaningful use is defined.

He said that the new health IT employment opportunities will need to be occupied in a relatively short amount of time, and all will require staff with the proper training.

According to the panel, the cost of health IT training may be a burden that providers have to shoulder.

Glaser noted that the federal government will put "some money" on the table for curriculum and to jumpstart the process. Increasingly, organizations will front money to bring in talent, Glaser said. He predicted that certification programs will proliferate, as the need for health IT professionals continues to grow.

The panel predicted that individuals also will shoulder some training costs in order to provide themselves with a competitive edge in the job market.

Vaz said that one of the biggest challenges facilities face is obtaining experienced project managers and information system designers. Glaser agreed, noting that “an element of effectiveness comes with experience.”

In a question-and-answer session, Jay Sanders, MD, president and CEO of the Global Telemedicine Group, said he had no doubt that an infrastructure will be set in place for EHR meaningful use requirements. His concern was that the “integrity of the information infrastructure” might be compromised.

“That is a persistent and never-ending challenge,” Glaser responded, adding that there will always be inherent limitations on the quality of data. Glaser noted that you’ll always want to piggy-back "knowledge to complement the algorithms."