Are Remote Workers the Solution to Health IT Staffing Woes?

The Pros and Cons of Healthcare IT Staffing with Remote Workers

January 11, 2013
Remote Workers Health IT Staffing

Story Highlights

  • Healthcare IT staffing strategies that allow for remote workers have far more applicants to choose from.
  • Studies suggest remote workers may be more productive than their counterparts on site.
  • Having consultants work from home means healthcare organizations can cut down on the travel costs associated with health IT staffing.
  • Remote workers have higher job satisfaction and are thus more likely to stay on a project to completion and potentially take on more health IT work.
  • Instant messaging, online meetings, and video chat allow remote workers to stay connected.

To an outsider, the world of healthcare IT staffing may look like an alternate universe. High unemployment numbers indicate it’s a tough time to be a job seeker. In most industries, there are more candidates than there are jobs, meaning employers hold all the cards.

But of course, in health IT staffing things couldn’t be different. Why? The simple answer is supply and demand. If the predictions are right, the next five years will see a shortfall of 50,000 health IT workers. As a result, healthcare organizations are scrambling to secure health IT talent that can help them keep up with shifting regulations and meaningful use deadlines. To this end, many organizations will find themselves in a legitimate battle for healthcare IT workers, in some cases bending over backwards to make themselves more attractive to the health IT candidate they are pursuing.

One way healthcare organizations can make themselves more attractive is by offering health IT job candidates the option to work remotely for all or part of the assignment. But allowing for remote workers has far more benefits than simply serving as a “perk” to attract elusive talent. See the list of “pros” below, followed by the so-called cons of using remote workers in healthcare IT staffing (and why those concerns are unnecessary).

The Pros: How Remote Workers Can Ease the Pain of Health IT Staffing

Allowing for remote workers exponentially widens the applicant pool – By allowing candidates to work remotely, the applicant pool is no longer limited to those living in a specific region or those willing to travel for extended periods of time. The health IT consultant in Houston (whose family needs him home most nights) is now a viable candidate for a job in St. Louis, Minneapolis or Charlotte. Thousands of candidates may be just right for the job, but not able to travel for extended periods of time. Why shouldn’t you leverage their talent – even if it’s from afar?

Remote workers may be more productive – It’s every micromanager’s worst fear. Surely employees, left to their own devices, will spend hours playing Angry Birds or watching bad daytime television. However, some studies suggest the opposite is true. Health IT Manager David Jacobs also points out that having a consultant fly long distances each week to work on site often means losing a half or even a full day’s productivity, so the remote worker is actually more effective off-site.

Financial savings – Air travel and hotel rooms can be expensive, so allowing the candidate to work remotely will certainly save some healthcare IT staffing dollars. Additionally, a worker in a smaller market may take a lower rate than those in the surrounding city. And since most candidates view the option to work remotely as a perk, they may accept a lower rate than they would if required to work on site.

Remote workers are satisfied workers – Health IT consultants who consistently travel for work often experience early burnout, explains Jacobs. The hassle of traveling on a regular basis – dealing with airport security, renting a car, extended hotel stays – is sure to lower job satisfaction, ultimately driving talent off the market at a time when health IT staffing is tougher than ever.

The Cons: The Alleged Obstacles of Using Remote Workers in Healthcare IT Staffing

The loss of face to face interaction - Despite instant messaging programs, video conferencing, Skype and FaceTime chats, some fear there will be a disconnect between remote workers and those on site. Having worked remotely himself, Jacobs says applications like Skype and GoToMeeting kept him in constant contact with the client. Working remotely allowed him to be more available than if he had been tied up travelling every Monday and Friday.

Time zone difficulties - Naysayers may fear that variances in time zones will make it challenging to schedule meetings. Jacobs argues that while time zone may be a consideration, it’s hardly a problem. It simply means having the forethought to not schedule end of day meetings on the West coast or early morning calls on the East coast.

Not all job functions are appropriate for remote work - If the health IT consultant will be responsible for training end users on specific programs, some fear they may not be a good candidate for remote work, but Jacobs debunks this concern completely. “Training can still be conducted remotely,” he says. “I conducted a couple of training sessions with GoToMeeting. The client actually enjoyed it. It cut their cost down. It allowed for others to listen in while not having to leave their desks. One person who had a sick child at home was able to call into the training from home.”

Management resistance – Healthcare IT staffing experts may have trouble convincing managers (especially those of the “micro” variety) to buy into the remote worker solution. Jacobs concedes this point, saying “Micro IT managers will want a person on site almost all the time.” However, by citing some of the arguments above, perhaps they can be persuaded.

Health IT Staffing Tips for Hiring Remote Workers

Health IT staffing is certainly made easier by allowing for remote workers, but are there additional factors to consider when hiring remote workers? When possible, contact a reference who managed the candidate remotely to see if there were any issues. If the candidate has not worked remotely in the past, ask former managers if they think the candidate excelled at self-management. Ask the candidate to provide examples of how they manage their time.

Most importantly, set clear expectations from the beginning about all aspects of the assignment –methods and frequency of communications, meetings, project updates, and of course, deadlines. Like any employee, remote workers can only be successful if they know how they will be measured. So don’t let an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality prevent you from consistently communicating your expectations to the remote worker.


Healthcare IT staffing experts are in a war for talent. Anything the healthcare organization can do to make their health IT jobs more desirable will assist their health IT staffing efforts. Giving health IT job candidates the option to work remotely certainly helps matters, and now it seems using remote workers has other benefits too – increased productivity, financial savings, and more. But are remote workers the solution to healthcare IT staffing woes? Maybe not exclusively, but they are proving to be at least one piece of the health IT staffing puzzle.

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