Health IT workforce training connects ONC to Nobel Prize

Aaron Schwartz and Melinda Buntin | October 22, 2010

Last week, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Peter Diamond, Dale Mortenson, and Christopher Pissarides, whose work addressed questions about how unemployed workers find jobs and what role economic policy plays in unemployment. The Recovery Act, of which HITECH is a part, was designed to boost employment and make infrastructure investments that would pay off for the country over the long term. At ONC we’ve focused heavily on the pay-offs to investment in health IT in the forms of better quality and efficiency in care delivery. But we haven’t lost sight of the role we play in creating jobs and training a new generation of health IT workers.

The ONC Office of Economic Analysis and Modeling has an ongoing project examining how employment in the field of health IT is growing, a project that builds on the theoretical foundations laid down by this week’s Nobel laureates. This would be an easier task if there were existing data on employment levels for health IT workers. However, because there is such a diversity of occupations related to health IT, no such measures exist. We developed a set of measures using data from health IT-related job listings as a proxy for health IT employment. One of Diamond, Mortenson and Pissarides’ models showed that employment and job vacancies move together (i.e. a high number of vacancies suggests not only that demand for workers is up but that employment is up as well.)

In our work we are tracking the online job listings containing phrases like “electronic health record”. As you can see below, based on this measure, health IT-related job listings are on the rise! Indeed, to use a concept that we learned from Dale Jorgenson — an economist on many short lists for a future Nobel Prize – the relationship between the passage of HITECH in early 2009 and the dramatic rise in job listings citing electronic health records is significant according to the “intra-ocular test” – i.e. it hits you between the eyes.

So what does this mean for ONC? We have a way of monitoring the effects of our programs and regulations on the broader economy, and our findings have reinforced the need for the health IT workforce program to train Americans to meet the increased demand for employees with health IT skills.