Getting Started | Healthcare IT Career Path

getting started in healthcare itWithin the overall Information Technology industry, Healthcare is the largest and fastest growing segment. According to a Brookings Institute study, the Healthcare sector at large grew 10 times faster than the overall economy. With that growth comes the need for those with the technical and Healthcare related skills needed to implement and support a myriad of systems. Getting started in Healthcare IT is a matter of first understanding how the industry is structured, then taking steps to build the skills you need to succeed. I have worked in the Healthcare IT industry since 1995, and can tell you more about my story on my About page. My passion is to help you get started on a Healthcare IT career path. Let’s start with some facts about the industry:

  • There are about 5,700 hospitals in the US. Historically, healthcare institutions had been way behind other industries in advancing technology. That has all changed.
  • In 2009, Congress passed and the President signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which provided modest incentives to healthcare providers to drive them toward adopting Electronic Medical Records (EMRs).
  • As of September 2015, 83% of US physicians used an electronic health record (EHR) system, up from 18% in 2001 and 78% in 2013.
  • Healthcare systems are becoming more and more connected with each other, with pharmacies, and of course with patients, as web-based and mobile-connected applications continue to mature.

Look at how Healthcare IT continues to grow, even through recession:

The Need For Healthcare IT

Most of us are familiar with the paper charts that have been kept at a hospital’s nursing station. The charts then get carried around and handed off between nurses, doctors, and other caregivers as they take care of patients. There are countless inefficiencies in this method that simply could not continue.  For example, there is no easy way for say, a specialist outside the hospital to quickly review labs to then know what procedure or test to order. There is the risk that a reaction to a medication might not be caught. Then you can add a multitude of complexities that come with other hospital departments such as the Lab, critical care units,  Endoscopy, and others. All of those departments need to coordinate with each other to provide the best care to patients in the hospital, and also communicate with the patient’s primary care physician (PCP) after the patient goes home. This still doesn’t address issues with billing and insurance that need to be addressed, as everyone involved needs to be paid.

So we now see the need to bring sophisticated medical technology to just about every area of healthcare.  A lot of this effort is discussed in the context of an electronic medical record (EMR), or sometimes called electronic health record (EHR). These systems connect with many other software, hardware, and medical device technologies in an effort to provide an interconnected enterprise system that improves patient care. Many of the posts here will educate you on the technical and process-related aspects of Healthcare Information Technology. Healthcare IT also comes with an alphabet soup of acronyms, buzz-words, and abbreviations. If you’d like to provide your name and email address for occasional updates, you will get a download of 50 top Healthcare IT terms.

What Skills Do I Need For Healthcare IT?

For those who want to get started in Healthcare IT, one of the first questions that comes up is “Do I need some kind of medical training to succeed and move forward”?  The answer is Yes , No, and It Depends. In Healthcare IT, there are lots of opportunities for various skill sets and experience levels. A good way to look at this is an understanding of three specific skill sets, anchored by the interpersonal skills needed just to get through life:

 

healthcare it skills graph

Regardless of what Healthcare IT job you are wanting, you will need all of these skills to some degree.  A project manager will of course be very strong in the process skills area, but will still need to have some understanding of clinical and technical terminologies.

A clinical trainer might not be extremely technical, but they will still need to be able to know how to configure and navigate clinical software systems.

A systems administrator may not need to know the 10 knowledge areas of project management, but they do need to understand the phases of a project.

Where Are Healthcare IT Jobs?

Considering that technology touches just about every area of healthcare, it’s clear that there are job opportunities at your local hospital, nursing home, or other clinical setting. Here is a table with several job categories, along with expected technical and clinical skills requirements: 

Job Position/ Desc Technical Skills Req? Clinical Skills Req?
Help Desk Technician: takes calls from users in clinics or hospitals to help with basic PC, printer, and application functions. Medium Helpful, but not required. Consider getting A+ certification and a Medical Terminology class to get in the door.
Application Analyst: implements and supports one or more specific software packages for a vendor or a clinical IT dept. Med-High Hard to get started without at least some clinical knowledge. Don’t need to be an RN, but Lab and Pharmacy Technicians with basic computer skills have a better shot than highly skilled ‘techies’ with no clinical background. Starting as a Help Desk Tech can prepare you for this position.
Project Manager: provides oversight of one or more projects, assuming responsibility for on-time and on-budget completion. Juggles many competing priorities. Medium No medical skills required. Project Managers typically pick this up on the job. Either a college degree, Project Manager certification, or extensive experience leading projects is required. You probably could move into a PM role after some time as an Application Analyst.
Desktop Support Tech: supports users with PCs, printers, and other devices. High No medical knowledge required. Need to be comfortable working with all kinds of PCs, printers, and other equipment. A+ certification or demonstrated skills required.
Systems Engineer: implements and supports networks, servers, and the most complicated parts of a technical infrastructure Very High No medical knowledge required. Advanced technical knowledge required.
Instructional Designer:
develops training materials and delivers training sessions in class, on location, and online
Medium Helpful, but not required. Teaching and curriculum development skills usually required.

Hospital IT Vendors

The next obvious place to look for Healthcare IT employment would be with the companies that provide Healthcare software, hardware, services, and medical devices. Applicants usually need to have either significant technical or project experience, or have some technical and some clinical experience. Here is a rundown of top Healthcare IT vendors.

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