Are You Considering Becoming a Healthcare IT Consultant?

Are You Considering Becoming a Healthcare IT Consultant?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by in Career Coaching, Careers, Consulting

Experts are saying that there is a need for over 50,000 Healthcare IT experts that do not exist today.  This is really good news for those of us who are Healthcare IT experts already.  Opportunities should abound.

Is all this opportunity inspiring you to want to leave the employ of your hospital or vendor and join the world of consulting?  I think that’s great.  I know many people that have successfully made the jump to consulting.  I also know several who have not been successful in consulting and decided to go back to their old job.  It is not that they were not intelligent or that they did not possess the content knowledge that clients were looking for.  In most cases, the expectations of the unsuccessful jumper did not match the realities of consulting.  So as a career healthcare consultant, I would like to help you by setting your expectations appropriately.

Travel is Fun

Some people who do not travel regularly are under the impression that business travel can be fun and exciting.  Well, maybe when I was 23 or 24 it was fun.  But after flying over 3 million miles on 5 or 6 airlines, it is not so much fun.  Now travel means being away from my wife and 3-year-old son and although I still love serving clients (who rarely are in my own town), I really do not like not being able to put my son to bed and then spending quality time with my wife for a couple hours before we go to sleep each night.  So, travel is not fun especially if you have a family, but it is required because it is very rare that you will be assigned to a project in your own town.  In 20 years of consulting, I have had 2 projects in my own town totaling about 18 months.  Travel is a required part of the job and it is expected that you will simply suck it up and not complain about it.

Consulting is No Different Than What I do Today

You may be thinking that consultants don’t do anything different than you do today, except that they get on airplanes to do it.  This is a popular misconception.  It is true that the technical knowledge and skills that you possess will be utilized fully as you make the transition to consultant, but there are other competencies that you may or may not possess that you will need to be a successful consultant.  The best way for me to describe it is to describe the performance management system that we had at First Consulting Group (FCG) which has since been acquired by CSC – we called it PCADS (Performance Compensation and Development System).  PCADS defined the six competencies required for a consultant at FCG.  Everybody knew what the competencies were and everybody set their yearly objectives and had their performance measured based on their level of performance for each competency.  The follow table lists each competency and provides a brief description of each competency straight from the PCADS documentation (credit all the great people at FCG that make PCADS a valuable tool).

Competency Summary of Competency
Foundation Skills Foundation skills are essential, basic business and communication skills. They are required for career growth in all positions. Specific foundation skill examples include writing, speaking,  presentation, listening, interpersonal, analysis, problem solving, and facilitation and negotiation.
Knowledge and Skills The Knowledge and Skills silo represents the specific technical, industry or subject matter expertise required by a particular group or function within the Firm.
Project and Program  Management Project and Program Management, Group A, addresses the skills necessary to manage a client program or project and includes developing and managing project associates, managing tasks, budgets to project margin, scope, and client satisfaction etc.  This silo will be used primarily by our external client delivery associates.
Practice & Relationship Development Practice and Relationship Development skills are required to sustain long-term client relationships and–focuses on direct selling skills with specific examples including development of business in terms of work sold and quality of client assignment, development of long-term client relationships, sustained client satisfaction, and development of future service offerings.
Firm Leadership Skills required for defining and setting the direction for a group, department, practice unit or business unit would be measured in the Firm Leadership silo.  This silo also includes skills such as vision building, strategic planning, business acumen and managing big impact change.
Decision-Making The Decision-Making silo addresses the skills necessary to make critical Firm decisions as well as to demonstrate experience providing accurate and useful feedback within Firm processes.  Both the quality and scope of the feedback and decisions will be measured.

The first three competencies are the basic blocking and tackling for a consultant.  Don’t underestimate the importance of them, especially Foundation Skills.  As you transition into consulting, it will be very important that you demonstrate at least a minimal level of competence in each area very quickly.  If you have trouble writing, speaking, or developing complicated presentations you might want to create a plan to master these skills before you seek a consulting role.

The last three competencies become more important as you progress into management and as you may move up even higher to be an executive of your Firm.  You will see that as you do progress into management, you must develop the ability to develop strong relationships with your clients that result in generating revenue for your firm (you will most likely have sales targets).  You must also develop the ability to lead a consulting practice.  Send me a note if you are at this stage of your career and interested in consulting and I will help you think through a plan for a successful transition.

So now you know much more about what will be expected of you as a consultant.  Don’t worry that you may not have all the competencies described.  Your new consulting company will probably give you time to develop them, but keep in mind that because your company will not be able to charge as much for you, your compensation will probably be lower than those that can already demonstrate these competencies, at least until you are able to come up to speed.

A talk about compensation

Many people I know believe that they should get a large jump in compensation just for signing up to be a consultant.  But you will soon learn that what you believe does not matter as much as the economics of the consulting business.  The main objective of a consulting business is to make money.  This may not surprise you.  But what probably will surprise you is that consulting companies generally are much more communicative about the profitability of the company, your project and you than you would ever imagine.  This is especially true for those of you that work for a hospital or another provider organization where it is nearly impossible to determine your personal profitability and it is rarely or never discussed.  It is really easy to measure your individual profitability in the consulting business.  Here is the formula:

Your Revenue = The Average Hourly Rate you were billed to clients x The Total Hours you billed to clients

Your Costs = Your Salary + Bonus + Benefits

Your Personal Profitability = Your Revenue – Your Costs

And Your Personal Profit Margin = Your Costs / Your Revenue

With formulas this easy, consulting companies can easily determine what an appropriate compensation package for you will be.  Each company I have worked for sets and regularly measures margin and makes adjustments at least yearly.  The good news is that if your salary is $125,000 a year and you prove you can be engaged all year at $200/hour you will likely be in for a great pay increase.  Yes, there is bad news.  If your salary is $125,000 and you are only billable half time at $100/hour, you will either be in for a large pay decrease or you soon will be unemployed.  I can’t emphasize this enough, most consulting businesses are in the “money making” business first and foremost and you must meet your individual profitability goals for the company to meet its collective profitability goals or you won’t work there for long.

Let’s get started

After considering this background on consulting there may be some of you that decide that consulting isn’t for you.  I hope that I may have saved you some angst.  Others of you may still be on the fence.  If so, send me a note.  Maybe a brief conversation can get you off the fence.   Or maybe we can work together on a career development plan to help you meet your objective of either being a consultant or advancing where you are.

I really hope that there are many of you that have made it this far and are only more energized about becoming a consultant!  That’s awesome!  Let’s get started.  Send me a note and let’s get serious about making it happen.

Joe Lavelle

Joe Lavelle is the Co-Founder of intrepidNow. Prior to that Joe was an accomplished healthcare IT executive and career coach with a record of successfully meeting the business and technology challenges of diverse organizations including health plans, health delivery networks, health care companies, and several Fortune 500 companies. Joe is also the author of Act As If It Were Impossible To Fail, available on Amazon.

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34 Responses to “Are You Considering Becoming a Healthcare IT Consultant?”

  1. Jennifer Dennard

    22. Feb, 2010

    Great post Joe! Very thorough glimpse into the world of career transition at a time when I’m sure many are thinking about it.

  2. Gwen Darling

    22. Feb, 2010

    Joe,

    Excellent overview and advice! Although your post is directed specifically to those in Healthcare IT, this advice would be very valuable for anyone considering leaving their corporate job for the world of consulting.

    Speaking from personal experience, it’s a very scary but exhilarating feeling to hang your own shingle, but a move this life-changing requires a great deal of honest introspection before taking the plunge! Thanks for sharing your insights!

    G.

  3. Joe Lavelle

    22. Feb, 2010

    Gwen – thanks for your thoughts and reminder that it also takes some guts to make the leap to any new line of business, and especially when you decide to become an entrepreneur! I am always happy to share and learn new things with you! Joe

  4. Wiseguy

    22. Feb, 2010

    Consulting work is a one-man/woman show. It’s not for the faint of heart. There are many other businesses to consider.

  5. Joe Lavelle

    23. Feb, 2010

    Gwen and Wiseguy bring up important points; if you are considering jumping into “single-shingle” consulting, you should be prepared to demonstrate all 6 competencies described in the post right away. The most important will be client relationship development – selling. You must have customers and as a independent, you can’t rely on anyone but yourself to sell.

  6. The EHR Guy

    26. Feb, 2010

    Great post!

    In healthcare IT being a consultant is very rewarding and exciting especially if you’re working with innovative technologies with early adopters.

    Rarely, do you have to work alone. The complexity of it requires panels of consultants working on the same project(s).

    The travel can get to you at some times especially if it’s to the cold and cloudy parts of the country where most of the major healthcare networks are located (e.g. St. Paul, Chicago, Cleveland). You get the point!

    On the positive note, you get to enjoy good restaurants and local wines!

    I have worked in projects where multiple vendors participate in a big impact solution for a hospitals technology requirements. It can be so much fun when you join a diverse team of different technical and cultural backgrounds.

    You also have to commit to getting up very early and going to bed late. Your work week loses almost 2 days due to travel implications.

    During some project stages you can use telecommuting and this means working from home wearing flip flops!

    The EHR Guy

  7. Joe Lavelle

    26. Feb, 2010

    Well said EHR Guy, I forgot to mention the long hours. Most nights on the road involve several hours of work in the hotel after dinner and a good workout.

  8. Tessie

    01. Mar, 2010

    Great points everyone! Joe I love the table!

    I would like to add that if you are going to make that leap to consultant you should know or know people you can trust that are familiar with the holistic picture of your client base and or services. I have only been in consulting for a couple of years, but I have over 15 years in the healthcare industry. In my personal experiences I have worked with some brilliant folks that were not connected to the industry which made our endeavors harder than they needed to be.

    I have also worked in some dynamic and exciting roles that expanded my knowledge and had a blast doing them. I guess my point is consulting is like anything else you have to have the good, the bad, and the ugly. ( I quote Forest Gump and say ‘consulting is like a box of chocolates you never know what you’re going to get’) …. So enjoy the variety,… it’s the spice of life! Love that all chocolate is scientifically proven to make you happy! ; )!

  9. Joe Lavelle

    01. Mar, 2010

    Teresa – I am laughing. Consulting is like a box of chocolates, except that clients always expect to pick their favorite, even when they don’t define their project properly or worse pay market rate. Thank you so much for your insights! -Joe

  10. plin

    17. Sep, 2010

    Thanks for the great post Joe. Do you think there is a different expectation for consultants working with health care professionals that do not have technical expertise?

    I was a consultant in the IT industry for many years prior to joining a health care organization as a FTE. Personally I find the expectation in a hospital environment can be quite different even though the task is the same.

  11. Joe Lavelle

    20. Sep, 2010

    I also worked outside the HC industry and would agree that expectations in the hospital environment are different in several ways. One of the ways is information/application overload. A good way to describe this was that during Y2K, we in the hospital IT industry had to remediate 500+ applications where our friends in other industries might have had 20-30.

  12. Fred Pennic

    29. Dec, 2010

    Joe:

    This was extremely well written and provides a great overview for those who are interested in becoming a healthcare it consultant. I think one of the hardest challenges as well as the key to long term success is always ensuring your skill set is marketable and in demand.

    It is important to think long term and identify future trends ahead of time before the market is saturated. Let’s face it, it is not a great feeling being on the bench for too long.

  13. Joe Lavelle

    03. Jan, 2011

    Thank you very much Fred! You could not be more right! I have coached hundreds of people through career “bubbles” that were most often caused by laziness and not paying enough attention to personal development in “hot areas”.

  14. IC Dana

    14. Jan, 2011

    Hi Joe. I really appreciated your article. I’ve been an implementation consultant with a big EMR company for 2.5 years now and am wanting to break away from the big corporate companies and find work with a consulting firm. I’ve thought about going out on my own ie a single shingle, but am just not ready to make that leap. What’s the best way to find consulting firms or recruiters who are looking for implementation consultants? Thanks.

  15. Joe Lavelle

    17. Jan, 2011

    There are many small and growing consulting companies and as with any job search the name of the game is who you know. Please feel free to contact me and we can coordinate an hour conversation where I can give you some ideas. jrl@resultsfirstconsulting.com

  16. Linda

    06. Apr, 2011

    Joe,
    As a ‘lifer’ consultant (25 years), I, too, can attest to the rewards and the challenges. My situation is a bit different, however. I am now looking to re-enter the healthcare field after a long absence. This is proving to be another challenge in leveraging strong management/Project Management skills with no recent healthcare exposure. Would love to see viewpoints on how to leverage strong consulting/I.T. experience in today’s healthcare job market.

    Best,
    Linda

  17. Joe Lavelle

    06. Apr, 2011

    Hi Linda – I’d be happy to share my thoughts with you. Feel free to contact me to coordinate a time to talk. jrl@resultsfirstconsulting.com
    Good luck! -jrl

  18. Ryan Esslinger

    07. Apr, 2011

    Great post and insight Joe. I started in HIT consulting just over a year ago, and I agree with most others’ opinions in that a.) it’s not for everyone; and b.) it takes a unique blend of skills to make it. I thought my previous 3 years of work experience taught me well, but I quickly realized that I knew very little until I started consulting.

    I’m one of the more fortunate ones in the consulting world, in that even though I work long/late hours, I rarely have to travel. My advice to anyone that’s looking to get into consulting is to make sure your family is okay with being away from home for extended periods of time. Consulting can definitely have its “wear and tear” on families and personal lives.

  19. Farazana Farouk

    27. Apr, 2011

    Joe,
    Thanks for the post. As someone trying to get her foot in the door with healthcare IT I would love to get some guidance on how I can get hands on experience with Epic- I am willing to do an internship. Please let me know if you know of any company willing to take on someone with 10 years in the software industry as a PM and Software test engineer.
    Thanks for your time
    Farazana

  20. Bob

    31. May, 2011

    Definitely make sure you avoid the glorified degree mill programs at UIC. They love to broadcast how great their program is. However, it is mostly run by “facilitators” with minimal HIT knowledge. They’re glad to take your money but they provide nothing in return. Mostly their degree mill programs consist of reading articles and then writing a few posts. I can think of many better ways to spend money.

  21. UIC

    02. Jun, 2011

    Dear Bob,

    We are sorry that you had a negative experience while enrolled in a UIC degree program. I cannot determine which degree program you were enrolled in by reading your post, since UIC has a multitude of informatics programs at the university.

    But, please note that all faculty and facilitators within the health informatics and health information management departments have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the health IT industry. In fact, many faculty members and facilitators have held prestigious clinical and executive positions in hospitals, at suppliers and as consultants throughout the country. You can learn more about our faculty here: http://healthinformatics.uic.edu/uic-faculty/.

    We understand that the online learning environment is not for everyone. Some students find they learn more from face to face interaction. However, UIC offers the only accredited Master of Science in Health Informatics program in the country. In addition, we are vetted by the numerous campus processes that add quality to our online degree format.

    At UIC, we continually strive to stay ahead of the curve and improve the quality of education we offer at our institution. If you would like to share your specific grievances with our faculty and staff, we welcome the chance to speak with you off-line. We can be reached at admissionsuic@healthinformatics.uic.edu. We look forward to your feedback.

  22. Ryan Esslinger

    02. Jun, 2011

    @Bob, forgive me for being blunt, but I’m not quite sure where you’re coming from. For one, your comment is off-topic in this specific blog post. The blog topic is relevant to becoming an HIT consultant, not to HIT educational programs. While interrelated, they are not two in the same. Obtaining a Health Informatics degree does not guarantee employment.

    Second, your reference to “facilitators” at UIC having minimal HIT knowledge is false. UIC faculty have decades’ worth of experience, in both clinical, business, law, and academic backgrounds, among others. The Program Director for the Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) for example, who teaches several of the MSHI classes, has been consulting in IT and HIT industries for nearly 30 years. As the previous comment indicates, UIC’s MSHI program is the only accredited Health Informatics program in the country. Several other schools are in line to obtaining this accreditation, but for UIC to obtain this first speaks to the credibility of the program.

    You are certainly entitled to your own opinions, but with all due respect, your comment sounds more like someone who is bitter about something. Perhaps providing context offline with UIC, rather than simply ranting, would give you more credibility.

  23. Angela H.

    25. Oct, 2011

    Hi,
    Wonderful post and comments! I have been in the medical field working in both the back office as well as office management for a little over 10 years but am experiencing difficulty tapping into the health IT consulting career. I do not have a practicing license. Currently I am debating if I should attend a community college HIT program or a university based HIT program to prepare myself for consulting career. What is your advice?

    Confused and trying to tap into HIT consulting.

  24. Kristi_Shan

    06. Apr, 2012

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the great article, Joe. I am currently seriously considering making the leap into consulting, having worked as an EMR (Cerner) implementation classroom trainer for several years. Fortunately, the traveling aspect is something I’m accustomed to since our implementations took place at various out-of-state hospitals. Now that the implementations are complete and work has dried up a bit, I am exploring other job opportunities and and finding it a bit overwhelming to choose between the several different consultant firms that seem to be interested. Not that I am complaining! Here are some of the things that I am pondering while trying to make a decision:

    – small versus large firm (advantages versus disadvantages?)

    – as a prospective employee, and with so many start-up consulting companies, how do you measure/research the companies’ ability to make deals with clients in your specialty area, the ability to keep feeding you with projects(assuming I and other consultants are doing our part)? It seems most firms have an all-of-the-above approach, but it would be nice to know if some particular consulting firms have a better reputation than others when it comes to specific products, such as Cerner, etc.

    -dilemnas like the following: choose a short-term, but low-paying contract that allows you to learn Epic…considering that it would be less money than what I currently make, but could pay off in the long run since Epic is supposedly ‘hot’, or go with what I currently know, Cerner, which is currently not as ‘hot’.

    – are there any firms out there that encourage cross-training (i.e. I am currently a Cerner trainer but would be keen on learning Meditech or some other?)

    – long-term(5 years from now)…it seems this is a boom cycle…but then what happens after the bust? I suppose those of us who are clinicians will be trying to get hired back on hospital staff. If this is a boom cycle, then how long does it last from now? 2 years?

    Sorry so wordy, but these are just a few things swimming around in my mind as I contemplate this change.

  25. Joe Lavelle

    24. Apr, 2012

    Hi Kristi – you are definitely considering many of the right things. One additional consideration for you. Is the firm a “consulting firm” that provides advice to clients on ways to improve their business and then executes projects to do so or is it a “contracting firm” that provides people with a certain technical skill at an hourly rate. Both types of firms have their place in the market, but if you really want to be a consultant, you probably won’t be satisfied at a “body shop” and if you really want to be a contractor, your probably wont be satisfied at a consulting firm. Best wishes and feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss in more detail. jrl@resultsfirstconsulting.com

  26. Venky

    08. Aug, 2012

    Hi Joe,
    I currently work remotely for an EHR company and have about 7 years experience although with no EHR certification. I would like to know what kind of certification program can i opt for as i want to be a certified EHR analyst. Any inputs are appreciated

  27. Joe Lavelle

    13. Aug, 2012

    Hi – I am not an expert on EHR certifications – sorry – I think Shirley Corsey, who also blogs here may be able to answer your question better. Good luck!

  28. Jacque T.

    18. Oct, 2012

    Joe,
    I will be taking the HIT consultant exam this coming March after I finish up with some courses. I have been working with medical records for the past 15 years and currently run my own small company working providing services in medical transcriptionists as well as data entry. I have been self employed for a long time now but woud prefer working for a company. What exactly are consulting companies looking for when they hire new consultants? How often do they hire people that are certified but have no real experience as a HIT consultant?

  29. Matt Skie

    31. Jan, 2013

    Venky, look for an HIT firm offering to send you for an Epic certification. Healthcare IT firms are trying to fill positions with a scarcity of consultants available. With that much experience, some firms will send you for training at a lower rate, but you will typically get a raise after some time period to prevent you from jumping firms.

  30. brittaney

    20. Jun, 2014

    I am currently an HIMT major, any suggestions on career fields with a 4 year degree?

  31. sara

    06. Aug, 2014

    Joe,
    Thanks for such an informative Article!
    I am Health IT consultant presently employed with Care management firm, I am looking for opportunities in Healthcare consulting on west coast. I have my Masters in Healthcare Administration with over four years of experience working in Provider as well as payer side with strong healthcare Domain Knowledge apart from IT skills. What kind of roles are possible with my skill sets?

  32. Joe Lavelle

    05. Oct, 2015

    Hi All

    Check out an update to this post here: http://intrepidnow.com/healthcare/healthcare-it-consultant/

    Best wishes!
    Joe

  33. John Lynn

    05. Oct, 2015

    Thanks for the follow up Joe and really amazing advice. Looks like we should have you create some more posts on Healthcare IT Today.

  34. Shawn Phagura

    05. Aug, 2016

    Joe,

    Thanks for the great information. Our company has been been involved with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for the state of California. Perhaps we should explore some opportunities in doing business together. We can combine both of our expertise and it might open up some doors, because technology is about the innovation. Looking forward to hearing from you Joe.

    Shawn
    http://www.globalitsvcs.com

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