So Much Data, So Few IT Workers

Steve Jobs famously staked his claim at the intersection of technology and creativity. Health insurers are looking for the intersection of technology and benefits knowledge, but are not quite sure how to get there. Do you hire information technicians and train them in the ways of health coverage, or do you hire (or promote from within) people who know insurance and train them to be IT savvy? It’s a pressing question given that the government anticipates a shortage of about 50,000 qualified health information technology (HIT) workers between 2010 and 2015, according to the PwC study “Solving the Talent Equation for Health IT” .

“Across the health sector, senior executives describe a challenging paradox: just as they are preparing to make major increases in technology investments they are encountering shortages in key personnel and are concerned about the industry’s ability to absorb change and integrate new workflows with HIT,” the study states.

The Affordable Care Act, with its emphasis on accountable care organizations and health insurance exchanges, means that insurers will have to sell to patients more than they did in the past. “In many ways they are playing catch up with many other industries — such as retail — in attracting, engaging and building loyalty among consumers.”

Gary Harvey, vice president of information technology at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, told researchers that “We can easily find someone who knows a tool, how to extract data from using it, and how to technically layer the data. But it’s very difficult to find someone who can look at the data and determine whether it is the right data to answer a business question or solve a problem. We see a huge gap in the talent pool for analytics talent. And it’s even harder for us to find people with clinical expertise.”

Remember the adage about giving someone a fish as opposed to teaching him to fish? Well, it doesn’t apply here. But your thoughts do, so please do tell. What are you doing about this problem?

The author is managing editor of Managed Care.