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Hottest IT jobs are in health care [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 09--Software engineer Steve Sloka has a telecom background but when the 30-year-old was searching for a new job last year, it was the health care sector, not another telecommunications firm, that won his talents.

Since July, he has been working at UPMC's technology development center in Bakery Square, building software that is "helping to improve billing and coding" between hospitals, doctors and insurers, he said.

In the same Larimer building, another UPMC tech team is working on virtual care and telemedicine, another on mobile phone apps, another on improving clinical data searches and still another on the ongoing maintenance of internal "application programming interface" systems -- the "middle layers" that allow the various software, apps, databases and clinical hardware to talk to each other and swap information.

In other words, if you're looking for a job in IT, you ought to be looking at the health care sector.

Health insurer Highmark is hiring mobile application developers and computer systems architects along with its underwriters and sales reps. UPMC is advertising for systems analysts and senior programmers, among its 115 open IT positions. Siemens Medical Solutions is hiring health care IT specialists locally, as is Pittsburgh-based Management Science Associates.

Nationally, the IT sector added about 62,500 jobs in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a tepid number overall and not enough to employ all of the new computer engineering graduates on top of the IT workers who lost their jobs during the recession.

Salary growth in the information technology field is expected to be mild, as well, ticking upward by less than 2 percent from 2012 to 2013, finally catching up with the wages lost during the recession, according to Janco Associates, a Utah IT-focused consulting firm.

But not all segments within the sector are created equal.

Health care and insurance, as well as the financial sector, showed the most promise for information technology careers in 2012, and 2013 is looking good as well.

Part of the reason for health-related IT growth is because the health care industry as a whole is growing, one of the only pieces of the economy to add jobs over the last four years.

In 2012 alone, health care employment rose by 338,000 in the U.S., driven partly by the increasing medical needs of the country's aging baby boomers. By 2020, nearly one in nine American jobs will be in health care, according to the Center for Health Workforce Studies.

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Apart from the natural job generation, two of the primary drivers of IT job growth within the health care industry are the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, more casually known as Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act did not specifically address the use of technology within health care, but some of its provisions -- namely, the creation of state-based online health insurance marketplaces -- are creating work for software engineers and code writers.

The Recovery Act, meanwhile, set new technology standards for medical clinics across the county, requiring that hospitals and doctors adopt some kind of "meaningful use" of electronic health records.

On both fronts, there's a lot of work left to be done -- the insurance clearinghouses are still under development in advance of their 2014 launch date, while less than half of "office-based providers" had implemented at least a basic electronic health record by 2011, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

On top of all the new technological requirements of the federal acts, Obamacare -- by virtue of its new insurance clearinghouses and Medicaid expansions -- figures to bring millions of new patients to America's physicians and insurers, said Victor Janulaitis, CEO of Janco. The addition of volume, he said, means the addition of network storage and network bandwidth.

At minimum, "You need to be able to send electronic records," he said. "You need fairly good [Internet] bandwidth to start transmitting these records."

And that should mean spillover work for traditional telecom companies, he said.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.

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(c)2013 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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