Health Informatics 2014

Missed Opportunities? The Labor Market in Health Informatics, 2014

Missed Opportunities? The Labor Market in Health Informatics, 2014

Health care reform depends on the better management of medical information—“health informatics”—yet the labor market is not keeping up with the demand for workers with these skills.

The demand for health informatics workers is projected to grow at twice the rate of employment overall, but there is strong evidence that the nation already faces a shortage of qualified workers in this field.  Health informatics jobs already remain open longer than the national average, a clear sign that employers struggle to fill these positions, according to an analysis of job postings nationwide in Burning Glass Technologies’ 2014 report.

Health informatics includes positions involved with the collection, handling, and processing of health care information for a variety of purposes, from billing to medical quality assurance. Accurate coding of patient records is fundamental to the entire health care system, both to providing treatment and ensuring providers get paid by insurance companies. Making better use of medical information has huge potential for lowering costs and improving quality, and is one of the few areas in health care where providers, insurers, and policymakers of both parties agree.

The field is being transformed by the shift to a new, international-standard coding system called ICD-10, set to be complete in October 2015. The conversion will increase the number of codes from roughly 18,000 under the old system to more than 150,000. In, addition, “big data,” electronic record-keeping, and a shifting regulatory environment have reshaped the field, and now these positions often involve sophisticated, judgment-based work.  This has resulted in a more diverse set of health informatics roles, just as demand has exploded.

Key findings include:

  • Emerging health informatics positions stay open twice as long as the ones they are replacing. Postings for Medical Records Clerks, an older position, stay open for 18 days on average, compared to 38 days for its more highly skilled successor, Clinical Analysts.
  • Many of these new jobs are hybrids, requiring skill sets from different disciplines. Clinical Analysts, for example, assist clinical staff with IT systems, interpret data, and manage patient records. That requires some of the skills both of a registered nurse and of an IT technician—at present, an uncommon combination. As a result, Clinical Analyst positions stay open 15% longer than the national average.
  • The talent pipeline for these workers seems to be leaking. According to federal statistics, there are 125,000 workers currently in these jobs. All of them could compete for the roughly 45,000 open postings for nonclinical coders tracked by Burning Glass, and another 34,000 graduates of medical coder training programs enter the field every year. But only 68 percent of graduates pass the required certification exams.

The report recommends that educators, training organizations, and workforce policymakers develop more opportunities for students and job seekers to cross-train between health care and IT specialties, to meet the demand for these hybrid positions.

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