Hundreds of press releases cross my desk every week, but a recent one from Catholic Health Initiatives got my attention. “Catholic Health Initiatives Launches $1.5 Billion Clinical Information Technology Program -- National health system ramps up hiring in major market.”

I started thinking about the import of this news. CHI describes its project – which intends to wire 72 hospitals in 18 states – as among the largest I.T. initiatives of its kind in health care. No hype there.

It sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it works out to $20 million or so per hospital. CHI announced a major hiring initiative as part of its plan – it’s looking to hire more than 200 specialists across the country to help. These are highly technical jobs, such as analysts, engineers, and application developers.

 “Catholic Health Initiatives has launched a national clinical information-technology program that is very ambitious and very comprehensive,” said Cristina Thomas, CHI’s vice president for clinical information strategy. “We need the best people available to supplement our existing staff and to help us achieve our goal, which is to put new electronic tools to work for patients, clinicians and providers. We are making an aggressive effort to hire the best candidates for these important positions.”

It’s the kind of talent that is in short supply, particularly on the clinical informatics side of the equation. Organizations like the American Medical Informatics Association recognized that fact years ago, launching its “10 by 10” clinical informatics training push.

CHI is not alone in its need. I scoured just a sampling of I.T. software vendor sites to see their staffing needs. EHR vendor Allscripts lists nearly 100 openings, Epic has 25, while McKesson rings in at 118 in Georgia alone. Of course these are fairly large companies, so it’s not like every other desk is empty. Scrolling down the lists, however, reveals a deep need for the same type of technical skills that CHI is looking for.  But smaller niche players need help too, and, just like their larger counterparts, the big needs lie in the software development side of the business. Greenway Medical Technologies lists 12 openings and eClinicalWorks 16.

So, here in the midst of one of the worst recessions in memory, and record high unemployment, certain jobs go begging. This talent shortage may prove to be as much as obstacle to industry connectivity as the usual suspects of inadequate capital, insufficient standards, and marginal interoperability. And this is highly discrete talent to boot. Just skimming the job titles of these openings reveals a dizzying array of specialists. Can you imagine the recruiter who has to discern among DataBase Administrator I, II, and III candidates? Or how about SRP CRM functional analyst versus SRP CRM development lead?

These positions may have funny-sounding titles, but that just comes with the territory in an era of electronic specialization.  Even the old-fashioned jobs come with higher expectations. McKesson needs a material handler—but they need to be certified to operate a forklift. My how things have changed! My first job out of college at a sheltered workshop for handicapped adults required me to run the forklift. I just got on and started unloading trucks. It was pretty simple, actually. Forwards, backwards, up, and down. Now, deploying an EHR? The real works begins after you unload the servers.


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