Whose Job Will Be Obsolete? Whose Doesn't Yet Exist? | Mark Hagland | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

Whose Job Will Be Obsolete? Whose Doesn't Yet Exist?

December 15, 2010
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Think of it: there are healthcare jobs of tomorrow that we haven’t yet imagined

I recently ran across an interesting little article on AOL, under the rubric “AOL Jobs.” A writer named Rachel Farrell wrote an article entitled “10 Obsolete Jobs We Love.” She and her colleagues “looked at jobs that are obsolete or on their way out,” and put together a list of “favorites” in that area. Pardon Ms. Farrell’s lack of singular-versus-plural consistency (what can I say? I’m an editor!); but in any case, the 10 she and her colleagues identified are as follows: “elevator operator; file clerk; iceman; inspectors, testers, samples, sorters and weighers; news vendors, street vendors, and door-to-door salesmen; machine feeders and offbearers; milkman; paper goods machine setters, operators, and tenders; switchboard operators; typist.”

Some of these jobs were clearly vulnerable for many decades based on improving core technologies, such as “elevator operator.” Though there are still a very, very few older buildings in the U.S. with very antiquated elevators, could there be even 100 people in the U.S. still working full-time as elevator operators at this point in time? And of course, “iceman” and “milkman” are jobs that had virtually disappeared by the 1950s and the 1970s, respectively.

Then there are jobs like “typist.” Now, years ago, when I first came into the work world, a typist was a very common job, and broadly needed in offices everywhere. But given that virtually everyone who communicates in any way now uses e-mail and other electronic forms of communication, and thus needs to learn to type, in the office-based world, the job of “typist” is virtually defunct. The exception, interestingly, is in healthcare, and it’s called “medical transcriptionist.” Still, even in that area, with the strong emergence of voice recognition technologies, the number of transcriptionists needed, as their jobs become editing jobs, is expected to dwindle pretty quickly. And think of health information management: “file clerk” was one piece of what the old medical records folks did; but their jobs are being transformed very quickly, with those able to transition to working in an electronic environment finding exciting new opportunities, and those who can’t move from paper, losing their jobs altogether.

Inevitably, there is great loss for those in the work world whose skill levels won’t allow them to “move up” to thought-driven jobs that require both basic competence using information technology, as well as more conceptual skill sets. But technology, as well as some societal changes, are transforming everything. What will be fascinating will be to envision the jobs—including the healthcare jobs—of the future that don’t even exist now. There are broad areas, particularly I believe in chronic care and case management, that either don’t exist right now, or that will be broadly transformed in the coming decade.

For CIOs, CMIOs and others in leadership positions among our readership, I would be very interested to learn your thoughts on potential jobs that might emerge in the next decade that don’t currently exist now, or that might be in embryonic stages. Who knows? Change can be scary, but there is opportunity as well as peril in the advancement of technology and in societal changes. And who ever could have imagined “social media content expert” as a job category 25 years ago??



Gwen, you bring back the memories! Electric typewriters, well I used an old manual Underwood, all my calculations we done with pencil and paper and my first college computer program was Fortran 4 using punch cards - lol.

Anyway, I wrote a blog article a little while back titled: "What will medicine be like in 2060" and with the way technology, AI / fuzzy logic computers, medical information databases, mHealth. . ., is progressing and the predicted shortage of doctors it might push that some doctor fields may be replaced by Dr. ADAPT (Automated Diagnosis And Patient Treatment)!

Positions that may be new / modified, hmmm, might have to have your cable guy trained in telemed installation and service.

This is a very interesting post, thanks.

Merry Christmas and wishes for a prosperious New Year.

Great thought-provoking post, Mark, and it really hit home since I started out in high school as a medical transcriptionist, complete with a Dictaphone and an electric typewriter!

At Healthcare IT Central, I have witnessed Healthcare IT job titles and descriptions changing and growing at lightning speed - we try to stay on top of this growth by updating our category list quarterly to accommodate the new positions that don't fit into a previous mold. In the past year we've added, "Clinical Scholar" and "Educator" along with many new categories for Sales and Marketing positions that are being created in our industry. It's all exciting - I'll be watching subsequent comments to your post with interest to get a jump on the new categories for 2011!


Mark, I agree with Gwen. This was a very thought-provoking post. My reaction is a bit tangential to what you asked. In addition to the evolution and revolution that technology has brought on job skills and responsibilities, it's also brought about a relatively absurd level of virtuality of some aspects of our jobs themselves.

Although you and I have met face to face, it didn't start out that way. We've collaborated multiple times but aren't formally on "the same team" when we're productively working together. We live in different time zones and dont work typical business hours. Many of our common friends similarly do not overlap in geography or expertise with either of us.

With the evolution from physical libraries to the searchable web to cloud services and ubiquitous mobile delivery, we no longer plan research. We do it, including unplanned during group meetings (smartphone and tablets have removed whatever stigma remained with laptops).  We do it over dinner or other discussion times, often currently with our unrelated scheduled activity.

Our research not only includes what Google can tell us, but also high quality content via YouTube videos of professors, authors, and other experts. We can email these folks directly, and, in my experience, always get a thoughtful reply.

Our jobs are changing, and so is the fabric of how we get any work done ... which, in turn, changes what jobs are necessary.

The hard thing here is imagining the things we cannot imagine but this is a fun exercise...
There must be a clear group of jobs associated with providing healthcare without the need to involve a physician - the clinical extender along the lines of the doc in a box concept from Walmart and others. We do not all need to see a doctor for the common cold....and to add controversy how about technology doing the initial review and defining the tests necessary?
Then there's all the imaging & diagnostic jobs - we have seen people taken out of the picture in other industries (airline check in for example) can you imagine the self service diagnostic facilities (this will lead to the rise of IT and engineering type folks to run these facilities)

Here is my list of Healthcare jobs on the way out:
-I agree with your assessment of Medical Records Clerks: These Medical Records file clerks still exist in offices without an EMR. However, many are migrating to managing scanned documents or upgrading their skills to help maintain the new EMR. Some are doing QA to make sure the scanned document is matched to the proper record.
-Coders: No way, you say? Well even with ICD-10 the push will be to use the EMR, CPOE and other clinical systems to "verify" (notice I did not say: suggest) the proper code. In fact I believe that given the added complexity of ICD-10 this will be more of the norm. Older coders will not want to get recertified and those that do may end up in a "QA" role.
-Medical Transcriptionist: Like Gwen, I also worked in the Medical Transcription business. It was a company that took care of overflow work and used overseas transcriptionists. It did not take us long to figure out that we could pipe most of our work through voice recognition and have senior level transcriptionist do the QA.
-Admissions Clerk: Ever wonder why most airline check-in counters are much smaller than they used to? Kiosks continue to add features that allow a much more automated process. Not to mention web portals. We just are not driving our patients to use these systems to pre-admit, collect copies of insurance cards or driver's licenses, and update demographics. This is a dinosaur of a job waiting to become extinct.
-Compliance Auditor: Ever wonder who generates the tons of reports required to verify physician coding compliance? This is like the days of accountants using paper ledgers. Software exists that collects physician coding and generates the required reports. It will not eliminate all the auditors, but it will significantly reduce them.
So the happy thought is that most of these jobs would migrate to some type of QA work. Even the Admission Clerk could review system error logs or QA the information entered by patients via the portal or kiosk. The reality however, is that the ROI for some of these systems is the cost savings in FTE reduction.