I believe part of the issue is the myth that is so persistent in Australia about the quality of people who work for government bodies. A lot of people operate from the assumption that many workers in government departments, hospitals, and aged care homes, etc., are there because they cannot find a better job
I’ve been working in healthcare for about 30 years, but I was also lucky enough to spend about five years working in other industries when I was with SMS Management and Technology. The companies that I consulted for during this period included St George Bank, Insurance Australia Group, Axa Asia Pacific, AAPT, and a number of other well-known commercial organisations.
My personal experience is that the staff working in ICT in healthcare have just as much skill and just as much passion as anybody from one of those companies. In fact, they’re often there because they really want to make a difference rather than just count beans. That’s why I’m in health myself.
I see management stressing about paying enough dollars to keep the better staff, and I’m not sure that that is what they should be focusing on. I think it’s important to try to determine what the key factors are that keep your good staff happy.
Certainly, from some of the recent reviews we have conducted in local health districts and hospital boards, the issue of training keeps coming up. Technical IT people like to keep current. They worry that the IT world will pass them by. And this is a valid fear – if you only know Novell, and the Microsoft products that have eroded your market, finding another job is not going to be easy.
Often, hospital executives and managers worry too much about the need to put on expensive training courses. External courses are not cheap and they do take staff out of being able to provide support for a whole day or longer.
However, staff scheduling time to do some learning of new systems or new products during the working day still seems to be an uncommon approach. I get the sense that there is a reluctance to actually trust staff in this respect. I think we all need to grow up a bit in this area. If we want to retain good staff, we have to learn to trust them.
The clinical to ICT balance
Increasingly we’re going to find lots of clinical people in our ICT departments. In fact, I’m not sure they’ll even be called ICT departments 10 years from now. We’ll see a merging of the new discipline of Informatics with existing branches of ICT. Medical device management also may well become a part of most ICT departments. Certainly in the US, the biomedical device team frequently now reports to the CIO.
Whatever the department is called, we can safely predict it’ll be a mix of technical ICT people, project resources, and clinical resources who have project skills or process mapping skills.
So the question will be how you go about ensuring that the clinical people who enter this workforce (whatever it may be called) stay happy and stay relevant.
Quite a few of the larger organisations around the country have put in place a chief medical information officer (CMIO), and some also have a CNIO.
Experience shows that the model will work best when the CMIO is still spending the majority of the time in clinical practice, with perhaps one and a half to two days per week set aside for the CMIO role (with flexibility). We talked earlier in this series of articles about how important it is that this kind of person has clinical credibility.
But what about the person who has come from a nursing or allied health background and has moved into ICT as a permanent project manager or business analyst? Quite often these people are in roles that need to be full-time. They are responsible for delivering a stream of a project, or for mapping processes across an entire department. These are not one- to two-days-a-week jobs.
We all need to understand the long-term plan for these roles in ICT, and at the moment I would suggest there isn’t really a plan.
Most people who have moved sideways from a clinical role into a project role and who do it for more than say a year or two would consider themselves rebranded as an “ICT person” or at least a “Project Person”.
There is a need to develop some structured plans for giving these people opportunities to stay up-to-date with their clinical specialty so that they do not end up in a career silo.