Healthcare disruptors: 4 hospital IT execs weigh in on retaining tech talent

As retail and tech giants like Amazon, Walmart and Google continue to scale healthcare efforts, hospitals and health systems are left looking to compete not just with retaining patients, but keeping their IT and other employees, too.

Becker's Hospital Review asked four hospital and health system CIOs about their most pressing concerns about disruptors taking away from their workforce and how they are staying competitive with retaining tech talent.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Are you concerned about losing IT talent to big tech and retail companies? If so, what are you doing to try and keep employees at your organization?  

Matt MacVey. Vice President and CIO at Children's National Hospital (Washington, D.C.). Fortunately, we haven't seen significant attrition to big tech and retail companies. That said, the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region has always been highly competitive for technology talent. One strategy we've had in place since 2013 is a unique partnership with Cerner through the Bear Institute for Health Innovation. Under the arrangement, Cerner staffs many of the key roles within our IT department and a digital health innovation team focused on novel solutions for pediatric care delivery. While this hasn't completely insulated Children's National from challenges of attracting and retaining talent, the relationship has materially helped. 

Looking forward, we do anticipate increased competition for talent and an ever-expanding set of needs. Like most health systems, Children's National Hospital is focused on putting in place patient-friendly, consumer-friendly technologies that allow our families to access our services anywhere and anytime. The skills to lead this digital transformation are different and less differentiated than the skills big tech attracts. In addition to pursuing options to partner with technology companies like Cerner and Amazon, we also see mission alignment as a magnetic force for talent. While we believe we are competitive from a salary and benefits perspective, we find that many of our long-term staff and new staff are seeking a connection to our mission of serving the complex needs of children regionally, nationally and internationally. 

Finally, we see the dramatic rise in remote work continuing to shift the landscape for technology talent. As our organization becomes more comfortable with a remote workforce, it opens up so many options for the top talent, provided we can make the connection to the innovative and mission-driven work we can offer them at Children's National. 

Dr. Richard Zane. Chief Innovation Officer, UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.) and professor and chair of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It is most assuredly a challenging time to recruit and retain talented employees, especially those with advanced technical skills and ability. At UCHealth, the IT, innovation, clinical and quality strategies are overlapping Venn diagrams and are permanently and purposefully intertwined. Everyone on the IT team knows and gets to feel that their work is contributing to the mission of curing illness and keeping people healthy in a very real and palpable way. Although working for big tech or retail may have certain benefits, going to bed every night knowing that you have made a difference in someone's life and that somebody gets to have a mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter or friend another day because of your work is another thing entirely.

Rich Rogers. Senior Vice President and CIO at Prisma Health (Greenville, S.C.). In my 28 years as a healthcare CIO, we have seen many waves that have increased demand for our IT talent, starting with the ERP/client server wave, to the dot-com wave, to the Meaningful Use EMR wave. Talented staff will always have the opportunity to make a higher salary if they're willing to jump companies, continuously travel from one project to the next, etc.

There are two components I have found to be critical in keeping your talent. First, it's imperative to stay current and maintain competitive compensation packages, provide stretch, growth and development opportunities, and offer a flexible work/life balance environment focused on delivering results.

Second and most important, the CIO's job is to build high-performing teams and organizations that are completely engaged in the health system mission. Big tech and retail companies are providing great new advanced technology tools to our industry and providing new ways to improve patient access to care. This is necessary and welcomed. Reality is that the vast majority of care is still provided locally, to our neighbors and community members. The feeling our IT staff get while walking through a pediatric oncology unit supporting our nurses and physicians taking care of patients is something that cannot be duplicated by big tech or retail companies. This is the IT talent that doesn't want to work anywhere else.

Claus Torp Jensen, PhD. Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York City). My biggest concern is perception. There is this perception in the talent market that leading edge technology solutions are only built by big tech, retail companies and financial institutions. It is true that many of these organizations have higher margins and can invest a significantly higher total amount in technology. Having said that, what is more advanced than working with cancer researchers to predict progression of disease? Or codifying cancer science so that we can provide meaningful individual digital tools as people try to navigate their options? Or build hybrid care solutions that span and integrate inpatient, outpatient and at-home care components?

We have long since crossed the line where technology is so fundamental to healthcare that institutions cannot function without – and where healthcare technology is (at least) as advanced as what we see in other industries. Cancer research and care are highly complex, centered on the individuals we are trying to help, and require very sophisticated technology solutions. To compete for talent we are actively changing the narrative of what it means for a technologist to work in healthcare. We have an active technical leadership culture and we consider ourselves cutting edge in our ability to apply technology to real world healthcare challenges. The best jobs, in my opinion, are the ones with the most meaningful mission – and curing cancer is a very meaningful mission to all of us at MSK.


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