What skills will shape the practice of the future?

“Staffing,” Michael Dulin, MD, said, “it is really tough.”

So difficult, in fact, that when trying to recruit for Carolinas HealthCare System, Dulin frequently comes up against more than just natural hiring competitors such as Duke and other big-name health systems in North and South Carolina.

“We have to fight with the banks,” Dulin said. “Banks are hiring the same people with analytics skills.”

Many new skills needed
As chief clinical officer of outcomes and research in the advanced analytics group of Carolina HealthCare, Dulin and his team are looking for a very specific skill set — but one that is becoming increasingly important to health entities and, as such, is likely to become more and more challenging to attract.

Indeed, with the industry heading into a so-called second curve — wherein fee-for-service succumbs to value-based contracts fueling the Triple Aim of better patient care that bolsters population health and reduces costs — there’s little question that practices are going to have to employ new skills if only to keep pace. 

Several of those are already well known, with EHR experience and certification naturally near the top of that list.

“Exposure to and knowledge of the latest government regulations will be extremely beneficial,” said Bowen Hopper, manager of health IT at Addison Group, a staffing specialist. “These include meaningful use, ICD-10, HIE initiatives as well as the Affordable Care Act.” 

Other job types, of course, are still taking shape. Think: chief of population health management, data scientist or patient engagement officer.

The American Hospital Association, in fact, identified several emerging job titles in healthcare, including some of the aforementioned, and others seemingly esoteric in nature, such as chief clinical transformation officer or even vice president of cost containment.

AHA sketched its list in a report conducted with search firm Spencer Stuart and, while rural, critical access and small hospitals under 100 beds comprised approximately 10 percent of the respondents, the takeaways nonetheless also pertain to that demographic, if not even more so than they do to larger networks that participated in the research, including Beth Israel Deaconess and Intermountain Medical Group.

Unique challenges
Here’s the rub: Small and mid-size medical groups are going to need many of the same skills as their larger brethren but will not likely be able to afford individuals for each and are going to have to both pick and choose which expertise to pursue and seek employees with more than one arrow in their quiver.

Will you need, for instance, a chief of population health or might the chief medical officer don that cap as well? The same question applies to the IT side: Will you really require a vice president of innovation or does your CIO already have that covered? And who best to drive patient engagement?

The answers for some, but not all, of the newer skills may reside in other industries.

Indeed, cross-pollination is already happening. While Dulin battles it out with banks for analytics specialists, Addison Group’s Hopper suggested that healthcare organizations might look to other industries, banks included, for IT-specific professionals.

“If the IT roles are solely focused on data and data management or network security, then recruitment within both industries would be feasible,” Hopper explained, but also cautioned that “both industries are heavily regulated and as a result it would be costly to take someone with no exposure and get them ramped up with healthcare-specific training, knowledge and experience.”

Which is one of the reasons that large networks create internship programs and try to establish a pipeline of future employees already somewhat familiar with healthcare.

“It's nice to say ‘the work you’re doing is going to improve people’s lives,’” Dulin said, “instead of ‘the work you’re doing is going to make sure someone doesn’t get a loan next Tuesday.’”

Smaller practices can make that same claim — if they get the chance to interview candidates with expertise the next generation of healthcare will demand.

What are the key skills you are looking to build your practice of the future upon?