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Jobs Are Plentiful in Healthcare -- the Only Question is For How Long

Need a job? Oddly enough, the healthcare field is booming. Healthcare occupations represent a higher percentage of the workforce than ever before -- 10.7 percent today, versus 9.7 percent before the recession, according to a private survey.

The big question, though, is just how long the good times can be expected to roll. So far, despite the best efforts of Medicare and private insurers, the growth in spending on doctors, hospitals and other providers continues to rise on a year-to-year basis. But that could change.

John Glaser, who heads Siemens' healthcare unit and used to be chief information officer at Partners Healthcare in Boston, recently noted that "alarm" over soaring costs is driving the current changes in health care:

Overall, the amount of money paid to providers will be lower, relative to inflation. You will have to prove your value to get what you get.
But for the time being, surf's up in the industry. In southeastern Michigan alone, eight major hospital systems plan to add 14,000 jobs this year. The new positions range from doctors and nurses to chaplains, billing coders, and information technology specialists. According to the Detroit Free Press, health care is the field with the best job prospects in the state -- a telling statement about an area that used to be known mainly for car manufacturing.

Many of the new jobs are in occupations that have nothing to do with patient care. For example, the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, which hired 2,000 people last year, is looking for clerks, technicians, aides, security guards, housekeepers, chaplains, laundry staff and information technology specialists. At Beaumont Hospitals in Royal Oak, which is hiring 1,800 people, the most in-demand professionals include medical coders and documentation specialists who understand medical billing and regulatory issues.

Department of redundant occupations department
Now let's suppose, for a minute, that accountable care organizations emerge and begin to take financial responsibility for care in Michigan and other parts of the country. If these ACOs pay hospitals and doctors from an annual budget, they'll need experienced accountants and people who know how to run information systems. But billers and coders will be unnecessary. In other words, an army of healthcare workers -- perhaps more numerous than clinicians -- could become redundant.

On the other hand, other categories would grow in importance. ACOs would need far more care managers and patient educators than we have today. And health IT would continue to add positions as it became woven into the fabric of health care. It's already doing so. As Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius pointed out in a keynote speech at a recent Orlando conference, "Health IT is one of our most promising new frontiers."

She's right, and more investors are committing to health IT as providers gear up to show "meaningful use" and garner up to $27 billion in government incentives. While it's unclear how many new are jobs being created, HHS is providing money to community colleges to train up to 10,000 new IT technicians per year.

Vast changes still in motion
Nevertheless, it's important to remember that while some sectors of the industry will prosper, others will decline or even disappear as a result of the vast changes that are about to descend on health care. In the end, health care can't be the job engine for the rest of the economy if our object is to control costs. The only way to increase access to care at a price we can afford is to make better use of resources and organize the system more intelligently.

P.S. Here's a belated nod to the Valentine's Day edition of Health Wonk Review. As usual, Colorado Long Term Care Insider has knitted together a marvelous compendium of the latest and greatest health policy posts.

Image supplied courtesy of fotopedia.