Staffing Strategies from the Health IT Industry Outlook Report

By Sheri Stoltenberg, CEO and founder, Stoltenberg Consulting
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LinkedIn: Sheri Stoltenberg
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Anticipating continued digital health advancement in the year ahead, health IT executives are considering new ways to leverage technologies to meet evolving patient, provider, and staff demands. However, according to the recent Health IT Industry Outlook Survey, 44% of hospital and health system CIOs deemed “retaining and budgeting for qualified IT resources” as the top IT operational challenge over the next year. While industry trends like genAI, virtual care, and remote patient monitoring have increased health IT team workload, talent strain remains a top obstacle for health IT executives.

Whether contending with a limited local talent pool or increased talent competition between health systems and new market entrants, IT teams with labor shortages will struggle to support new technology initiatives alongside daily system maintenance, creating operational barriers. To address such strain, health IT leaders can shift IT staffing strategies with the following two approaches.

Utilizing a blended support framework

In navigating today’s IT workforce, hospitals and health systems should acknowledge the importance of a blended support framework to avoid critical workflow gaps or end-user support quality degradation. When seeking additional resources, healthcare leaders should first assess internal team skillset and bandwidth, being realistic about current support capabilities. One HIT leader best practice is to create a current state matrix, allocating internal staff assignments to all applications, modules, and systems to best understand where IT support gaps remain. This will allow hospitals to find resources that complement internal team expertise and support limitations, whether that includes long-term, temporary, or mission critical project support requests. Embracing varying staffing strategies can help hospitals and health systems secure qualified IT talent, thus minimizing support delays and pain points for end users.

Moreover, it is crucial for healthcare organizations to cultivate an adaptable staffing model to meet fluctuating support demands. In fact, 36% of CIOs identified “flexible IT staffing support to ramp up or down with real-time project demands” as the top area of IT where they wished they had stronger support. Using a mix of resources allows IT support scalability that seamlessly adjusts to meet changes in project volume and skill mix. However, hospitals should be sure to clearly define knowledge base material, IT objectives, and measurable SLAs for each segment of a blended support framework — including in-house, remote, and outside consultants — so everyone works toward mutual goals. Attaining supplemental support resources who can flex in and out offers a cost-effective reprieve for strained internal IT teams to reduce staff burnout and turnover.

Improving staff retention strategies

While alleviating team workload pressure is a good place to start, health IT executives should deploy a variety of retention tactics in tandem to ensure long-term system support and optimization success. First, health IT leaders should nurture a departmental culture that fosters staff engagement. This may involve hosting community-based events or training management to build more meaningful connections with staff. Engagement strategies should also include investments in employee training and career growth. To mutually benefit employee and business goals, HIT leaders may consider cross-training IT staff on a multitude of applications and/or projects, therefore expanding IT team knowledge of advancing technologies while strengthening support flexibility internally.

Additionally, healthcare executives should enhance IT department visibility throughout their organizations. While cultivating user engagement and buy-in for IT initiatives, this practice will also reiterate to both internal and external IT staff their greater purpose within health system success. Utilizing collaborative strategies — partnering IT staff with providers for one-on-one support sessions, conducting IT team rounding to differing departments, and gathering clinical feedback during IT initiatives — can boost staff engagement, satisfaction, and retention, as well as enhance patient care efficiency.

Moving forward, hospitals and health systems can tackle health IT’s top operational challenge by prioritizing IT workforce optimization. Utilizing a blended support framework, improving retention strategies, and boosting cross-departmental partnerships will encourage technological innovation, as healthcare organizations are better equipped to meet rapidly pivoting support needs.