Tech Job Watch Dec 17 2010

Healthcare Technology Creates Engineering, Sales Jobs

By shareen pathak

Healthcare technology is in high demand and companies in the sector are flush with cash and churning out sales and technology jobs at breakneck speed.

From large-scale established firms to smaller startups that are creating new products, companies preoccupied with solving IT problems in healthcare are becoming a big source of sales and IT employment.

A recent IDC report showed that the U.S. health market for IT was worth $34 billion in 2010, and is forecasted to grow 24% in the next three years. And all this money means increased enthusiasm on the part of companies to grab a slice of the pie.

AT&T, Vocera and Epic are among the IT companies that brought on large numbers of salespeople and developers this year and have plans to hire in 2011.

AT&T, which recently launched a new initiative called AT&T ForHealth, hired 300 salespeople and 20 other staff who have healthcare and IT backgrounds to work in the new department. And it continues to grow.

"We've been investing for mobile health capabilities, applications and devices for patient monitoring, and so on," said Brenda Crawford, director of marketing for healthcare for the company.

AT&T ForHealth's offerings include wireless data and mobile connectivity between devices, pager-replacement communication devices, and cloud-based services to share clinical data.

"We are actively looking for people to fill those needs, including in sales," said Crawford. But it's not an easy job. Crawford said it's a competitive field that requires people to have healthcare backgrounds as well as some technology expertise.

Verizon has also been working on a health information exchange that is trying to change the way hospitals, health providers, insurers and patients share clinical information and patient data. The plan is to create a state-level and a national-level information database that can be accessed wirelessly no matter where the patient is, according to Kannan Sreedhar, managing director at Verizon Connected Health Care Solutions.

Spurred on by the shortage of resources, the need to improve quality and efficiency and incentives from the government, healthcare providers are eager clients for the new IT offerings.

"Shortage is a critical issue for most people," said Jeffrey Hillebrand, COO of NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill. "Plus the federal initiatives and the reimbursement you get if you use the technology, makes it worth it."

Hillebrand recently implemented a hands-free communication system throughout his hospitals with Vocera, a San Jose, Calif.-based firm, and has digitized all patient data through software provided by Epic, a Verona, Wisc.-based company.

"We're keen on new technology, but it's all about the return on investment," said Hillebrand. "Vocera and Epic both have high ROI, improved our efficiency, and so we like it."

The government is weighting the ROI with hefty incentives like the Obama administration's offer of $44,000 to each physician that begins using electronic medical records. That's about a $19 billion injection of funding to create demand.

Currently, Hillebrand employs 300 people who are systems and software developers that work on data aggregation through electronic health records. He intends to expand with plans to use a company called Log-Net, which provides IT solutions to the hospitality industry, to integrate software into televisions that can help patients order meals and communicate with nurses.

At Vocera, which makes Star Trek-like hands free communication devices, the high demand is creating a hiring frenzy. The company is recruiting sales managers, implementation engineers and mobile developers, said Brent Lang, president and COO.

At Epic, which creates software that lets patients and providers access clinical data, as well as book appointments and get test results, is also hiring. Developers and software engineers are in high demand, and there are also some openings for account executives.

The list of technology companies tackling other problem points within the healthcare system is long. ZocDoc, an online appointment system that lets people find a doctor and book appointments instantly, as well as write and read patient reviews, is looking for salespeople and software engineers, ideally those with interest or experience in healthcare IT, according to Karsten Vagner, a recruitment manager at the company.

"We also hire former pharma and medical sales reps, because they know the health world," she said. Around 200,000 people use the service per month, and the company just closed a $15 million investment round this summer.

"Everyone is staffing up and hiring," said Don Biskin, a partner in the life sciences and technology practice at recruiting firm Heidrick and Struggles.

But Biskin cautions against getting too excited about the sector in the long term, because he doesn't know if the trend will continue. "If the money suddenly dries up, and it could, these are large expensive decisions, and all the action will suddenly stop," he said. "It's a fragmented market."

But for Sreedhar at Verizon, this is just the beginning of a bigger, transformative trend. "When I look at the industry, I see a physician with an iPad, moving within hospitals and between floors, with any information he will ever need at his fingertips."

Write to Shareen Pathak

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