Digital Health Careers – What, Who & How Much?

Lately I’ve been fielding quite a few questions regarding digital health. The three most common queries:

  • What is digital health?
  • Who’s being hired to fill digital health positions?
  • How much do digital health jobs pay?

The first question may be easily answered by quoting recent articles like John Nosta’s piece published in Forbes labeling 2013 as the year of digital health. Nosta does an excellent job of summarizing the current state of digital health while pointing to a bright future.

The other two questions are a bit more difficult to answer. I tend to fall back on my personal experiences in EHR consulting, along with those of my friends and colleagues, rather than quoting from studies and articles. There are multiple variables dictating the likelihood that someone will be successful finding employment in digital health and even more factors influencing the salary they might expect. It may be more realistic for an individual to “transition” into digital health versus “break-in.” Note the compensation chart below from Information Week regarding Health IT salaries.

Health IT Compensation Chart

I created four categories using information gained from real world experiences to establish job prospects and compensation ranges. My estimates assume that all applicants present themselves well and have a solid foundation in business etiquette and personal networking with impeccable references. My salary ranges include positions that may require relocation and/or varying levels of national travel. Also, I live in the American Midwest, so the positions referenced in my calculations would likely be more lucrative in areas of the county with higher living costs.

No experience and no undergraduate degree:

Job prospects: Good

If you don’t mind starting at the bottom entering data and scanning documents into EHR systems or serving as an unskilled clinical worker, there are entry level positions that may provide a good foundation for the future. I know a woman who started as a CNA in a nursing home and now commands a six figure salary. Of course, she earned a BSN, MSN, etc. as she gained experience on her way up the ladder.

Salary Range: $25k – $45k

Experience without an undergraduate degree:

Job prospects: Fair

I know several people with years of experience in a clinical or technical setting without undergraduate degrees that were able to snag high paying jobs in digital health. Unfortunately however, I don’t know very many. The price of admission for most of the positions paying top dollar with upward mobility includes at least a four year degree. In my opinion, the few folks making big money without the requisite bachelor’s would make more and/or enjoy enhanced job security if they complete their degrees.

Salary Range: $35k – $65K

Undergraduate/Graduate degree with no experience:

Job prospects: Good

I know two young men who accepted offers from different Health IT corporations approximately three years ago. Straight out of college (one an undergraduate degree the other a graduate degree) with no experience in healthcare or IT they started out at an annual salaries of $50k – $60k. They both had stellar academic records and interviewed extremely well. Their references were rock solid and the hiring managers had confidence in their abilities to learn the skills required for their jobs. One of them has already moved into a higher paying position and the other is poised for either a big promotion or a jump to another employer along with a substantial pay raise.

I started in electronic health records in 2001 with no experience. However, I had a bachelor’s and was very close to finishing my graduate degree.

Salary Range: $45k – $65k

Undergraduate/Graduate degree with experience:

Job prospects: Excellent

This category doesn’t need to worry about whether or not a position is available. They need to decide which one they want to take. Typically, greater responsibility and/or increased travel equals higher wages. At this level many positions tie a larger percentage of overall compensation to performance. A base salary of $75k could balloon to $100k if an employee/department reaches their revenue goals. My colleagues with the largest compensation packages all have over a decade of experience combined with graduate certifications and/or Master’s degrees or higher. Due to work life balance considerations I did not accept the lowest nor the highest offers I have received. The bigger point is simply that I have had choices.

Salary range: $75k – $250k

Summary

In my opinion, the educational investment will pay off as hospitals and clinics are looking for people with experience and education while IT vendors are searching for employees who have proven that they can learn and/or be trained in the latest technologies. Digital health applications are evolving so rapidly that experience may not be the most important aspect of an applicant’s resume. Demonstrating the potential to pick up concepts quickly by referencing portfolios and projects completed as part of a course of study may be a valid substitute for experience.

Additionally, regardless of the strategy that may be employed to transition into the digital health field there is one overriding guiding principle that should always be considered. Improving patient care is the grand narrative that binds everything together. If patients do not get better, all other efforts are useless. Maintaining a patient-centered approach will give any job-seeker an edge over one who does not exhibit this type of orientation.

Update 3/12/2013
In a prepared statement, Daniel Garrett — principal and PwC’s health IT practice leader — said, “Despite billions of dollars spent investing in [health IT], the lack of qualified professionals could slow progress toward quality and efficiency.”

He said, “The challenge for health care is not just a shortage of people with technical skills. It’s also a shortage of people with the skills to marry technology savvy with business strategy as health care becomes more connected, coordinated and accountable” (Healthcare IT News, 3/12).

Read more: http://www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2013/3/12/report-health-organizations-face-shortage-of-it-employees.aspx#ixzz2NNri9BYL

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