5 Go-To Strategies for Hiring Health IT Workers During a Shortage

The demand for skillful health IT workers is at a high as hospitals and health systems seek employees who can help successfully implement electronic health records and prepare the organization to meet meaningful use. A Computer Economics study found approximately 61 percent of healthcare organizations increased IT staff in 2011. In November, Fargo, N.D.- and Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health hired nearly 100 people to help train employees on its electronic medical record system. However, a shortage of HIT workers is making recruiting these employees more difficult.

Eric Marx, the vice president of health IT for Modis, an IT staffing and recruiting agency, suggests hospitals take a strategic approach to hiring HIT workers. "Most of these candidates have multiple offers; they hold the reins for what [job] want to take. Hospitals need to be as creative, aggressive and flexible as possible." Mr. Marx shares five reliable strategies hospitals can use to hire desired HIT candidates.

1. Start at the top. Hospital leadership should support HIT employee hiring efforts to ensure that the best people possible are recruited. As most HIT projects are long-term and require significant financial and staffing investments, hospital leaders need to partner with the human resources department to attract candidates that have the experience and characteristics necessary to meet the organization's goals. "One of the struggles we see with some organizations is while HR does a phenomenal job, they may not have as much pain as the CEO might have in knowing 'I missed hiring by two people this month, now I'm potentially on the hook for penalties,'" Mr. Marx says. "Administration has to stay involved in that process to make sure [hiring] achievements are hit."

2. Be creative. To differentiate themselves from other organizations, hospitals will need to be creative in their offers to HIT candidates. For example, offering remote working options for a certain number of weeks each month could be attractive to some applicants. The opportunity to work on a big project is also often desirable to candidates. "Most candidates are interested in getting in on the kick-off stage rather than the optimization stage," Mr. Marx says. Beginning implementation of EHRs in a health system, for instance, is more interesting than maintaining status quo in a hospital that has already adopted the technology.

But hospitals don't have to rely on only big projects to hire skilled HIT workers. "Some of the little things make a big difference," Mr. Marx says. "If you pitch them on culture — a fun working environment, challenges and opportunities they'll have — all of those types of things go a long way."

3. Be aggressive. The shortage of available workers combined with the financial implications of not securing a strong HIT workforce means hospitals have to be aggressive in their recruiting efforts. "There are too many dollars at stake to miss out on somebody because [you wanted to pay] five bucks an hour less, or because the other organization responded more quickly," Mr. Marx says. "You need to pull out all the stops for each candidate and look at every opportunity to land each individual person." Timing is important. He suggests scheduling phone interviews quickly, making an offer as soon as the decision to hire is made and developing an easy on-boarding plan.

4. Be flexible. In addition to being creative and aggressive when recruiting HIT workers, hospitals will need to be flexible to compete in this tight market. Mr. Marx says many hospitals are being flexible on requirements for vendor-specific training. "Instead of holding out for Epic certification, they may be willing to take a candidate with Cerner or Meditech experience and sponsor [him or her] for training and certification with Epic." Hospitals are also compromising on the basis for hire — a hospital that prefers direct-hire may be willing to hire on a contract-to-hire basis to recruit the desired candidate. There is typically less compromise on clinical IT background, however, according to Mr. Marx. "It is more difficult for straight IT people without healthcare industry experience to get their foot in the door."

5. Develop retention strategies. Once a hospital hires the desired candidate, it needs to develop ongoing retention strategies. Many HIT employees turn to consulting because of the financial benefit, Mr. Marx says. To discourage this, hospitals should ensure they are challenging HIT employees with interesting projects and maintaining a competitive compensation package. "It is paying dividends for hospitals and health systems to do periodic reviews and market-rate adjustments and other things of interest to those employees," he says.

Learn more about Modis.

Related Articles on Health IT Staffing:

HIMSS, Human Resources Group Collaborate to Drive Health IT Workforce Initiatives

9 Recommendations for Hospital Health IT Staffing and Training

Survey: 61% of Healthcare Providers Increasing IT Staff

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