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Good Computer Help is Hard to Find

Clint Maun, CSP

A major key to recruiting quality Information Systems (IS) technical staff is to use a team approach by recruiting a "top notch" technical director first who can assist in selecting other staff.

The health care industry is experiencing a major period of change that necessitates quality information technology. With the prospective payment system and the need for documentation of clinical outcomes, today’s long term care organizations must have high-quality information systems personnel involved in systems implementation.

While the employment market for quality IS personnel is tight, it is possible to successfully use recruitment and retention strategies that have proved fruitful for other departments.

First, it is important to lay out a definitive job description for the individual or individuals to be hired. Recruiting based on a general job summary for these specialty positions is unlikely to prove successful. Rather, it is important to outline specific requirements in the job description including:
  • A specific understanding of and experience in the facility’s existing hardware and software products.
  • Knowledge and working experience in the health care field.
  • An understanding of how to be part of a team process in the development of specific customized software or the programming necessary to achieve the organization’s goals, and
  • The ability to act as a consultant to the facility on IS issues and new software programs

The last two points are important because if a provider is to place faith in an information system, it must have an employee who can relate to individuals in the facility and be a member of the collaborative team. It would not be advantageous to recruit someone who has specialty knowledge on computer issues but is unable to relate his or her own work to the needs of the company. Specialists prove to be more suited to the company’s success when they possess team-playing and consultative skills.

One of the roles that the top IS employee - who should have the title of Director or even Vice President of Information Systems - is to educate staff in dealing with simple problems which will keep IS staff from spending an inordinate amount of time troubleshooting small problems. It is also important for the IS Director or Vice President to be part of the strategic planning sessions discussing how technology can simplify processes used facility-wide.

Additional responsibilities of the IS Director could include developing an information system that can effectively handle reimbursement, regulatory, and clinical information; being an integral part of a team assigned to implement applications; strategizing and developing the organization’s information system plans; and preparing information technology policies and procedures.

Recruitee As Recruiter

In recruiting an IS professional, consider the process of finding the best IS individual available and then have that person be a part of the team recruiting other technical staff. It is difficult to make an assessment on the number of technically proficient professionals the facility needs without having a key technical person involved in the decision. Therefore, the key person - Director or Vice President - should be recruited first and will probably be aware of other organizations to target for technical personnel.

Too often an organization trying to develop specialty positions, particularly IS staff, hires a number of individuals and then tries to mesh them together to meet the company’s needs. It is generally more effective to build a base around a key individual. That way, the company can realize commonality of thought, capitalize on past business relationships, and acquire an understanding of the hardware and software needed, to maximize recruitment efforts.

When searching for the key IS professional, providers should look for someone who has expertise related to the company’s current or planned technology.

Other qualifications the IS Director should have would include a degree in Information Technology, three to five years of experience, health care experience or knowledge (preferably), proven team capabilities, and proven communication skills and experience. The new employee should be able to help the facility’s management assess where the company is technologically and where it needs to be in the future.

Taking the Team Approach

To hire this key individual, providers should develop a recruitment team consisting of talented individuals who are intimately involved with the facility’s IS needs, such as the Chief financial Officer and the Director of nursing. The team also should include technology users such as nursing personnel, therapists, accounting and medical records staff. The team should represent all aspects of hardware and software utilization and know exactly what’s necessary for the company.

The team’s first job is to develop a profile for the new hire. Next, the team should focus on the following areas of recruitment:
  • Contacting other organizations with IS personnel or individuals in the health care field to determine who they might know would be interested in learning about the recruiting team’s company.
  • Soliciting vendors that have successful contacts with IS personnel.
  • Considering past sources for recruiting IS professionals.

Developing an understanding of the marketplace the company is in, including what compensation and benefits levels would make the facility competitive in its recruitment efforts.

Identifying significant resources available in the marketplace, such as technology newsletters, successful newspaper advertising approaches, other organizations in the market area that employ IS personnel, colleges and universities that could be contacted for referrals (for example, professors, vendors to the university, or guest lecturers), and developing a recruitment plan in which some members of the team are charged with analyzing the marketplace and others with making key contacts with identified resources to expedite the recruitment effort.
What is important to the success of the mission is to "fan out" the effort beyond the organization. Conversely, if the company puts this particular job in the hands of one individual, either an executive or human resource professional, it limits the chances for success.

The team approach can be successful for multi-facility companies as well as independent facilities. The multi-facilities have the advantage of securing a cross-functional team from different locations to assist in the process. The independent facilities may rely on staffing this team with not only members of the organization itself but also key affiliate relationships the organization enjoys, including vendors, volunteer organizations, key board members, and owner networks.

Expanding Your Base

It is a good idea to develop an out-of-town approach to advertising and recruitment. The broader the base recruitment efforts cover the greater chance of success. However, as the recruitment strategy expands to locations outside the company’s market area, it is important to set a budget as well as develop the team and put a recruitment plan together.

Being in the health care field is actually an advantage when recruiting technical staff. Many IS individuals want to be part of a collaborative team rather than being isolated as a specialist in a technical business. They are looking for communication, conferencing, and information sharing, and consulting relationships. In a health care setting, IS staff can use these interpersonal skills - an advantage that should be emphasized in advertising and recruiting. The key to a successful overall recruitment strategy is to outline:
  • A specific time line.
  • A specific budget.
  • A thorough understanding of the job description.
  • A specific assignment for each member of the team as efforts fan out, and
  • A detailed way for the team to report on its success.

Overall, it is possible to show the IS professional that this is a company they would like to work for because a team commitment has been shown in the recruiting effort.

For more information on recruitment, selection and retention of quality employees please click here.