The current and projected shortage of healthcare workers has received much press. What has not been frequently addressed is the potential shortage of IT staff with the healthcare IT skillsets to take advantage of technological changes. With advanced digital technologies in use, healthcare IT staff will require advanced skillsets. A few healthcare trends, in particular, will increasingly impact healthcare IT staffing. Increased use of digital health tools, the explosion of health and related data, and progress toward more interoperability between health systems shift organizations' IT needs. These trends will lead to an increased need for specialized security skills, data governance, and experts to program interfaces and run queries across disparate data sources.
IoT Devices and Telehealth Require Cybersecurity Specialists
There are over 26 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices currently active worldwide, and some experts estimate that 75 billion will be in use by 2025. In 2020 alone, the number of healthcare IoT endpoints is projected to grow by 29 percent.
The highly sensitive medical and financial information contained in medical devices inspires cybersecurity concerns, a large barrier in the widespread adoption of IoT medical devices. As IoT connects medical devices like insulin pumps and pacemakers to computer networks, this expansion brings significant security risks. This risk increases when interconnected devices are allowed to communicate with EMR & EHR systems, including NextGen. The more devices, sensors, and apps connected, the greater the risk to your facility's networks and data. Healthcare organizations already are prime targets for cyber-attacks; IoT exposes more points of vulnerability.
Telehealth, which includes live video streaming, asynchronous store-and-forward technology, remote monitoring of medical devices, and patients' use of mobile health apps, continues to expand in use. In the coming year, some factors will combine to further grow telehealth. Changes in Medicare policies will increase adoption for the large senior population, nearly every state Medicaid program now covers some telehealth services, and smartwatch devices are increasingly prevalent in remote care delivery.
Already a critical skillset for most practices, cybersecurity will require even more attention and increased skills as the number of IoT connections increase, remote monitoring of wearable devices spreads, and use of telemedicine expands. Areas in need of cybersecurity specialists include:
Security of medical devices and wearables
Identity management and authentication of external devices
Telemedicine security monitoring, training, and awareness
Development, security, operations (DevSecOps)
Big Data Has Big Need for Data Analysts
Since 2016, healthcare organizations have experienced an explosive health data growth rate of 878 percent, reaching 8.41 petabytes on average in 2018. This big data holds many possibilities for providing insights across the organization, health system, and population at large.
The increase in the amount of data necessitates an increase in the means of processing, securing, cleaning, analyzing, and using the data. Professionals with advanced big data skillsets can augment predictive analytics and enhance population health management.
To take advantage of big data's potential, healthcare organizations need the following skillsets:
Knowledge in a variety of big data platforms and solutions;
Advanced data analytics skills to analyze, manage, and leverage unstructured and complex data;
Experience with database architecture, database queries, and reporting; and,
Data governance know-how.
Interoperability Requires Interfaces and Databases
According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), "Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices and applications to access, exchange, integrate, and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional and national boundaries, to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations globally." In other words, interoperability is the ability to share and use health data across applications and organizations.
Since many systems use different languages, continued standardization of data progresses. But for now, organizations require interfaces to access, extract, and transmit data from different formats. Organizations require IT staff or vendors with the following skills:
Extensive knowledge of enterprise EHR, EMR, & EPM systems (e.g. NextGen);
Experience working in the healthcare industry;
Experience developing and deploying EHR, EMR, & Practice Management interfaces;
Thorough understanding of health system communication protocols: HL7, FiHR, XML, JSON;
Experience facilitating rapid application development teams to deliver technology solutions; and,
Knowledge of cloud computing and web services.
How to Prepare for Future Healthcare IT Skillset Needs
Identifying areas of your organization that could incorporate digital healthcare trends and would benefit from implementing more in-depth technological solutions.
Understanding your organization's current technology capabilities. This includes an assessment of in-house departments as well as vendors used for your practice management (EPM), electronic health records (EHR), data warehousing, business intelligence, etc.
Analyzing your team's current capabilities in skills and expertise.
Developing a strategy to close the skills gaps. The strategy could include a combination of training existing IT staff, hiring staff with the needed experience and skillsets, and partnering with vendors with the expertise to bring your organization into the digital health future.
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