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Overcoming the Healthcare IT Talent Shortage

Does Technology Itself Hold the Keys to Solving Today’s Healthcare IT Shortage?

You don’t need to dig too deep to confirm that there is a shortage of qualified IT talent shortage in healthcare. For example, take a look at the recent article in CIO.com, “IT Talent Shortage Hitting Healthcare Hardest”. The article doesn’t just state that there is a shortage but goes further by reporting that, according to industry observers, it’s only going to get worse. In fact, a HIMMS 2014 study found that one third of healthcare managers had to either postpone or scale back IT projects due to the lack of staffing. That number looks to increase.

The CIO.com article author takes an interesting position, in suggesting the IT talent shortage may be alleviated by “poaching” IT resources from other industries. That ignores the resistance from healthcare managers to hiring non-healthcare experienced IT resources. This resistance comes with good cause. The learning curve within healthcare can be quite steep. To start, many more standards prevail in healthcare than in most industries. In most IT areas, you just need to deal with one or two major standards which are usually based on modern XML standards. There is also a lot more commonality between different XML standards than there is between HL7 2.x and a modern XML standard. So for an IT resource moving from Financial Services to Healthcare, it is not about simply becoming familiar with another XML standard. The transition also means developers have many more types of systems, applications, medical devices/equipment and utilization of databases to deal with than in other industries. Then, to top things off, much of Healthcare IT is still based on proprietary and legacy technologies which pose their own unique challenges. It’s no wonder healthcare managers are wary of poaching IT resources!

There is another challenge – salaries are rising. The shortage of qualified IT talent has hit almost every industry. As a senior executive in a technology company that provides products and services to a number of different industries, I can vouch for that. The shortage has become even more extreme over the last 12 months. IT talent now costs a lot more.

So how can we take another approach or innovate to solve the IT talent shortage in healthcare? This may sound radical, but why not apply technology?

Take the transformation of other industries with the development of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for computers as an example. GUI opened up the world of computing to non-developers.

Today, solution providers, application software developers and medical device vendors face the demand of providing electronic interfaces at unprecedented rates. Pressure to establish interoperability between myriad systems, applications, data sources and devices in the vast healthcare ecosystem is intense.

Some of the features of a GUI have made their way into interface engines, or should we say have crept their way in? Many have, at least in part, added a graphical layer to some aspects of their software. But in the same way that legacy systems abound in other areas of healthcare, including many of the EHRs, an astounding number of organizations still depend on antiquated technology that fails to take full advantage of a GUI as well as the time and resource savings they enable. Other healthcare interface engines have only gone part-way to modernize their systems for ease of use and increased productivity. So, full-on GUI is a place to step up to.

Let’s look at 4 ways interface engines could quickly improve productivity and allow less technical resources to be engaged:

Do Away with Script Driven Data Mapping.

Data transformation represents one of the most time consuming aspects of data integration. Interface engines with script driven approaches are brittle. They require users with specialized developer skills which eliminates using non-technical resources. Graphical/ drag and drop approaches, on the other hand, make users anywhere from 2x to 20x more productive and allow non-developers to participate in 80% or more of the interfacing work.

Utilize Open APIs.

The world wide web is your oyster. You can harvest a virtually unlimited pool of Open Source components if your interface engine is architected to be extensible via Open standardized data-level APIs (Application Programming Interface). It is a very efficient way of increasing interoperability. With an interface engine that utilizes Open APIs, your IT staff can spend less time on custom development and more time on actually interfacing.

Use an Approach that Uses Configuration vs. Coding.

There no longer is a need for interface engines to rely on users writing complex code or scripting languages. With the maturation of Java and Windows along with HTML 5, interface engine users can be presented with a fully graphical user interface to develop even the most complex interfaces without the need to write any code. In the same way that desktop applications removed the requirements to write endless lines of code and replaced them with graphical views; interface engines can do the same and broaden the resource pool and make users more productive.

Make Interfaces Shareable.

The internet has been built on collaboration, yet there has been little done to leverage sharing in healthcare. EHRs are notorious for not making it easy to share data and using proprietary formats that limit data access. Imagine if an interface only had to be configured once and then could be leveraged across the entire healthcare ecosystem. Imagine the savings in manpower. The industry needs to adopt a mentality and process that enables collaboration as well as rewards participation. By using technology that enables collaboration, we can make a big dent in reducing resource requirements pretty quickly.

Why Wait?

The Healthcare IT shortage isn’t likely to get better any time soon. So let’s make the move to develop, test, deploy, and manage healthcare interfaces and interoperability in less time with fewer highly skilled IT resources. Let’s focus the IT technical resources we have, make them more productive and hire where it makes business sense. Let’s use interface engines with the features and architecture (as the four suggested here) to reduce IT costs, utilize non-technical resources and make the most of scarce IT talent. By these means, we can mitigate the IT shortage by putting into play powerful, simple-to-use tools that a far greater range of talent can utilize and all can be more productive.

About PilotFish

For over 14 years PilotFish has been exclusively focused on integration. Originally started as a services organization, over time we developed tools to make our implementations go faster and to leverage reusability. These tools became productized and are the core of our current offerings today. PilotFish has always believed that a graphical user interface (GUI) holds the key to greater productivity, not just for developers, but for non-developers as well. Our integration engine leverages modern technologies, web services and APIs which are combined with a GUI and architecture that easily enables the sharing of interfaces. Therefore, many of our clients have been able to expand their integration teams by also using business analysts, thereby being less impacted by the IT shortage. If you are interested in learning more about how PilotFish can help expand your IT resource pool by leveraging our technology, give me a call at 813.864.8662 x7303.

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Monika Vainius

Written by: Monika Vainius

Executive Vice President of Applied PilotFish Healthcare Integration. Monika has extensive experience with systems interoperability. She combines this experience with her professional passion for healthcare and healthcare technology to comment on current healthcare and IT news. Website

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