Last month, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based Pivot Point Consulting released a new report, entitled the “Healthcare IT Market Report 2017: Trends Edition.” In its Feb. 20 press release, published during the annual HIMSS Conference being held in Orlando that week, Pivot Point Consulting’s executives noted that, “Since 2014, the number of healthcare IT (HIT) professionals who reported feeling ‘extremely optimistic’ about their career opportunities increased by 47 percent. That optimism may be fueling their career choices as well, as new research shows that during that time period, HIT contractors and consultants who declined considering a full-time position increased by 25 percent, and the number of full-time employees who would consider consulting has hovered around 70 percent over two years,” the report’s authors noted.
“Greythorn, a healthcare staffing solutions firm, has released market reports for the past five years covering issues of compensation, benefits packages and career motivation. At the end of 2016, the company was acquired and merged with Pivot Point Consulting to form Pivot Point Consulting, a Vaco Company. This year’s market report reflects its new name, and marks the first time historical data has been analyzed to identify industry trends, offering a broader picture of what is happening within the health IT industry,” Pivot Point’s executives noted in the press release.
Upon the release of the results of the online survey (executed during 2016) of more than 800 health IT professionals, 66 percent of whom were consultants, and 35 percent of whom were full-time employees, Ben Weber, managing partner at Pivot Point Consulting, stated in the press release that “The market reports we’ve published have provided healthcare IT professionals an opportunity to benchmark their compensation packages and skill sets. It has also allowed employers to identify what constitutes a competitive offer for top talent,” he explained. “Through our analysis of the survey data year over year to create this report, workers are empowered to evaluate their career paths in light of industry trends, which leads to more informed decision-making.”
Among the survey’s findings:
> “Despite a sense that work weeks are getting longer in the United States overall, data from the last three years shows that healthcare IT professionals are trending back toward a shorter work week. There has been a 9-percent increase since 2014 of survey participants who report working 3-145 hours. Meanwhile, all categories for work weeks longer than 45 hours show decline year-over-year—except for those working 60-plus hours.”
> Asked whether their organization had increased or reduced their overall IT staff headcount in the past year, 35 percent said their organizations had increased headcount; 18 percent said their organizations had decreased headcount; and 47 percent didn’t know.
> Asked whether they expected their organization to make any layoffs in the next 12 months, 37 percent said they expected the headcount to remain the same; 13 percent said their organization was hiring aggressively now that the market has turned”; 12 percent said the outcome would be dependent on the economy, and that their organization reviewed the issue of staffing every quarter; 8 percent said that their organization had made its cuts already; 20 percent didn’t know.
> The just-released survey found 86 percent of respondents stating that they are feeling “optimistic” or “extremely optimistic” about their career opportunities right now. That represents a slight increase over the previous years (84 percent in 2015 and 78 percent in 2014).
At the time of the survey’s release, Pivot Point’s Weber spoke with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding its findings, and the implications of those findings. Below are excerpts from that interview.
Regarding the survey’s findings around any potential layoffs, how did you interpret the responses to that question by survey respondents?
We were asking individuals in executive or hiring positions what they expect their organization to do regarding layoffs. What we’re saying is that over 50 percent are saying the headcount will remain the same, or that they’ve already made their cuts. There’s a good percentage who are aggressively hiring. That was expected and represents the status quo. But on page 11, professionals feeling optimistic about career opportunities, that’s steadily increasing. We’re looking at that as positive, and we believe the market trends are buoyed by innovation and by demand for top-tier talent. And those people taking our survey are typically top-tier HIT consultants or those who are hiring those consultants. So those three factors—the market, the innovation in the marketplace, and the supply-demand dynamic around top-tier talent—those are contributing. These are primarily consultants who implement Epic and Cerner.
So you see continued demand for IT professionals, based on upgrades, replacements, etc.?
Yes, that’s right. A number of EHR [electronic health record] vendors are going out of business or leaving the field, so there’s opportunity there. The consultants we’re talking to are continuing to be optimistic.
So you see the shift towards EHR optimization, clinical transformation, etc., providing ongoing opportunity, then? And perhaps ACO [accountable care organization] development, and the shift towards population health, might also provide opportunities?
Yes, organizations are going to have to move to a more robust infrastructure in order to participate in value-based purchasing and other payment systems. And so the visualization and analysis of data that will be required to pull data from these EHRs, will provide a great deal of opportunity. Organizations are looking for solutions that provide dashboards for clinical performance improvement. And to succeed in VBP, you need data, and processes and policies around data sets. When do they get access, and what do they do with that access? And how do they move that back through the revenue cycle and other processes? So we see a tremendous ongoing opportunity there.
What skill sets, and what types of professionals, will be needed going forward?
You’re going to need consulting services with understanding of policy and payment trends like MIPS and MACRA [the Merit-based Incentive Payment Program for physicians under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015]; and you’ll need programmers and analysts who can work with the clinicians and administrators, and can understand the data. So there’s a whole bunch of skill sets that will be needed there.
At the same time, as we look at the massive consolidation of providers in the industry, and the push towards value-based purchasing, we’re seeing institutions of higher learning like Harvard and MIT beginning to combine the medical degree with a business degree, so combined MD and MBA degrees, as people see the need for people who can bring both skill sets together.
What’s your sense of tenure and turnover among healthcare IT professionals right now?
It’s a little bit less stable in that more direct-hire HIT professionals are venturing out into the consulting marketplace. More individuals are welcoming the chance or the opportunity to go from direct hire to consulting, which means those direct-hire tenure numbers will regress a little bit. It’s not going to be a huge change, but more direct-hire HIT professionals are going to be interested in those consulting opportunities, partly because of the optimism we see out there in the marketplace right now.
What would you advise people to do if they’re thinking about their professional future in this area?
That’s a great question, and I think that CIOs and others need to be empowered by data, to be able to analyze data and manage data infrastructures. Consolidation essentially takes advantage of the supply chain management issues, and of the supply of labor. And if you look at changes around meaningful use and fee-for-value, the attestation becomes a big part of that as well. So healthcare IT professionals have to have their eyes on the data, and partner with the right consulting firms that can provide them with good data on a real-time basis, and combine that with strong PMO development. So IT executives, if they don’t have that, it’s like fumbling around in the dark. And there are tremendous numbers of firms out there looking for that talent. So they need to make sure they’re partnering with the right vendors, and keeping their eyes on the data.
Does all this portend a new era, one in which it will be hard to retain staff?
That’s a great question. Retention programs are critical in that regard; they have to be active, they have to be engaged upon. The C class in IT needs to be OK with creating feedback mechanisms on staff. Right now, we’re seeing massive trends with professionals needing full benefits; and the ability to work from home. All these things are up in terms of staff interests and needs in terms of staying with a provider. So they have to be acutely aware of these trends, or have feedback mechanisms so that they can adapt to the marketplace, because the work-for-talent trend is going to continue to grow. Great question, and those are some of the things that come to mind.
One element in all this that is interesting is around gender.
Yes, that’s correct. Of the 836 respondents to our survey, about 60 percent were female, while, 40 percent were male. That represents a shift; until this past year, we’ve always had a 50/50 split.
Is flexibility in hours going to be more important, as a result of this shift towards more women in health IT?
Absolutely. In fact, that’s one of the results we’re seeing, that consultants and also direct-hire professionals, want the flexibility of working from home. We’re seeing…. And they’re asking for work-life balance. So as we look at the specialist nature of these individuals in this market, flexibility is a huge factor. And with consolidation, the directors and executives are working more hours than ever. All our categories are on decline except for those working 60 hours a week—that’s the director level or above, and their hours are increasing. As we found in this year’s results, at the individual contributor level, for health IT professionals, the hours per week are falling. We’re seeing work-life balance becoming a more important factor. In the end, it’s all about retention.