by Lisa Banks

Q&A: ComOps manager talks skills shortage in healthcare IT

Jun 10, 2010
CareersIT Leadership

Sharon Lowry from software company ComOps spoke with CIO about the IT skills shortage in the healthcare sector. The manager of workforce management solutions gave an insight into how both employers and employees can brave the storm when looking for the right IT talent.

Why do you think that there is a skills shortage in both the healthcare and IT sector?

There are skills shortages in every industry sector and domain. This is largely a result of a changing, aging population, changing demographics, and an altered commitment to the ‘jobs for life’ mentality of previous generations. The workforce is more mobile than in the past and less inclined to stay in one place or even in one industry. While this has contributed to business via a broadening of experience it has created a situation where there is far less certainty around the retention of the workforce in any industry at any given time. In addition to the demographic influences on the workforce past initiatives, in healthcare in particular, was heavily reliant on manual mechanisms to capture and interpret workforce related data. Healthcare is at the forefront of technology in terms of diagnostics and therapeutics but has been slow to uptake the peripheral solutions that would enable more reliable capture and interpretation of how information related to how the workforce was being used and the extraneous variables that influenced how the workforce should be developed to support changes in direction. As a result future workforce planning initiatives were largely based on information that was at best incomplete, but in reality completely unreliable, as a retrospective representation of the workforce. Therefore, the planning was flawed from the outset.

What role should contractors play in a skills shortage?

One of the difficulties for employers has been the fluctuating need for resources. Contractors by and large offer an opportunity to respond to work demands on an ‘as needed’ basis without incurring ongoing costs when resources are not required. In addition, depending on the industry and area of expertise, contractors have the capacity to bring to an organisation a breadth and depth of experience that may not otherwise be available within the organisation. Contract resources can be used to deliver discrete pieces of work over defined timeframes ensuring the business continues to be responsive to market need while remaining lean and efficient with the workforce

What do you think employers can do to retain the right staff members?

Staff turnover is very costly to organisations from both skills and monetary perspectives. The attitude of the current generation has changed and has resulted in a more mobile workforce. One of the most commonly cited reasons for employees leaving an organisation is lack of career prospects and poor work-life balance. The development of a sustainable workforce model is dependent on an organisation being in a position to determine what their future skills requirements will be based on their workload and workforce requirements in full alignment with future corporate directions. When it comes to work-life balance employers must be able to determine the impact of their resource deployment models on employee satisfaction and outcome. Again, manual mechanisms make accurate assessment almost impossible. If you can’t determine the difficulty you are poorly placed to deflect the negative impact! Workforce management solutions are proving their worth in this space through the provision of connected automated mechanisms to enable accurate capture of relevant data and the extended ability to turn this data into usable and meaningful business intelligence about the workforce.

How can employers ensure that they are doing enough?

There are many initiatives underway to address the skills shortages and redress the balance. For example, role transfer and substitution options mean traditional domain roles can be redistributed across the workforce. The critical determinant of success is appropriate training. Healthcare is a great example of where traditional professional boundaries are moving through role expansion and the creation of new professional disciplines has enabled continuity of quality patient service while at the same time ensuring use of professional groups is optimised. Central to adopting such new approaches however are the creation of well defined supporting structures and definition of success criteria. The effectiveness of changing staffing configuration must be measured against outcome and benchmarked back against key performance indicators to ensure the new direction is sustainable, repeatable, and delivers benefit to the end consumer

What do you think the future of IT in the healthcare industry will look like?

In many respects changing therapeutic directions, coupled with skills shortages of around four million healthcare workers across the globe, has accelerated the attention given to redressing the balance. Healthcare is already utilising role transfer and substitution initiatives through the creation of new clinical levels and professional grades to ensure that clinical quality and outcome is not sustainable without compromises. In doing so they are increasingly looking to the establishment of IT connectedness that offers the potential to create single point of data entry for key workforce and workload related data that will enable a more structured supply-and-demand approach to the delivery of clinical services. Connectedness has the capacity to deliver multi-dimensional views that incorporate the predictive resource planning, optimised responsive deployment, as well as retrospective analysis for future strategic planning – while at the same time eliminating the opportunities for error that currently plague multi-system data collection. Intelligent Connectedness is the key.