Hiring and Interest in Health IT Is Booming

Last Updated Sep 11, 2009 3:19 PM EDT

Healthcare providers and technology companies are getting ready for the health IT blitz that the government's promise of $19 billion in subsidies to physicians and hospitals is expected to unleash in the coming year.

Information Week reports that hospitals and other healthcare organizations are stepping up their hiring of health IT professionals. Outsourcing and staffing firm Hudson is seeing a 30 percent rise in demand for these techies in its Denver office and similar growth in Dallas and Chicago. And a recent survey of 244 healthcare CIOs shows that 5 percent plan to increase hiring in the fourth quarter. While that isn't a huge spike, it's more than is being seen in the rest of the economy.

Meanwhile, big companies like IBM, Verizon, Dell, and GE (already a big health IT software vendor) are expanding their presence in what is anticipated to be a quickly growing market for electronic health records (EHRs). Dell, for example, jumped into the market earlier this year by partnering with Sam's Club and EHR vendor eClinicalWorks to offer EHR systems to small physician practices. Now, with partners such as eClinicalWorks and Perot Systems, the big computer manufacturer plans to serve as a general contractor to offer physicians remotely served EHRs--aka "cloud computing" applications.

IBM and Verizon, which started a health care unit recently, also plan to supply "cloud-computing" alternatives to small practices. Verizon will focus on data-center hosting and data-sharing technology that can be utilized by local and regional health information networks.

The current vogue for "cloud computing" in health care is nothing new. "ASP-model" EHRs, which are essentially the same thing, have been available for several years, but have not made much of a dent in the market. They do offer a couple of advantages to small practices: they cost less upfront, because they don't require onsite computer servers, and much of the maintenance and backup functions are handled by ASP vendors.

But there is not much difference between the cost of installing a client/server system in a physician office and the expense of having the software and data served remotely over the Internet. The practice must still put in a computer network, which has to be maintained locally, and it usually pays a monthly fee to the ASP vendor that is comparable to the loan payments it would make if it purchased the system outright. At the end of, say, five years, the loan is paid off, whereas the ASP lease payments continue.

Of course, the companies now entering the field say that this "software as a service" technology is new and better-and in some ways, it is. Because of faster computers and Internet connections, the response time of ASP-model EHRs--a key factor for physicians--has improved. And the new applications are more user friendly because they tend to be designed for the web.

What is clear is that as the health IT field becomes more lucrative, it will attract more players and generate more hype. Hopefully, it will also mean that more physician offices will acquire EHRs and be able to deliver better patient care.

  • Ken Terry

    Ken Terry, a former senior editor at Medical Economics Magazine, is the author of the book Rx For Health Care Reform.