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Survey: U.S. Providers Have Difficulty Recruiting, Retaining Health IT Workers

April 12, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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U.S. healthcare providers need to rethink their approach to hiring and retaining the experienced information technology (IT) professionals they need in the new healthcare environment, according to new research by Cherry Hill, N.J.-based global professional services company Towers Watson.

At a time when many are already struggling to compete with IT consultancies that can afford to pay top dollar for experienced IT professionals, providers are further disadvantaged by their own misconceptions about what IT workers actually want from an employer.

The Towers Watson survey of more than 100 healthcare providers, including hospitals, found that two-thirds (67 percent) are having problems attracting experienced IT employees, and 38 percent reporting retention issues. The attraction problem is even greater for Epic-certified professionals, with nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the respondents reporting difficulty hiring these individuals, whose specialized skills are essential to meet new electronic medical record (EMR) requirements under healthcare reform.

"Hospitals have an urgent need for experienced, highly skilled IT professionals to ensure they can meet new government requirements and qualify for financial incentives," Heidi Toppel, a senior rewards consultant in Towers Watson's hospital industry group, said in a statement. "In addition, the ability to share patient care information and records accurately and seamlessly with a range of other providers will be essential to achieving patient satisfaction and quality-of-care outcomes in a more integrated approach to healthcare delivery."

The survey found that one obstacle in providers' ability to recruit and retain IT employees is some misconceptions about what attracts employees to a healthcare organization for employment in the first place.

According to an earlier Towers Watson survey, healthcare workers ranked job security, competitive base pay, healthcare benefits, convenient work location and career advancement opportunities as the primary reasons for accepting an offer of employment with a healthcare provider. However, in a complementary survey of healthcare employers, Towers Watson found that, with the exception of job security, healthcare employers did not rank any of these same elements when considering drivers of attraction for IT and Epic-certified employees. In fact, they identified challenging work as the most important factor in attracting an IT employee to an organization, followed by the employer's reputation as a great place to work. Perhaps most surprisingly, the employers ranked base salary eighth on the overall list of draws for employees.

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