Health IT Workforce Training Programs: Looking Back, Looking Forward

If you want to get out of medicine the fullest enjoyment, be students all your lives.
David Riesman (1867- 1940)

 

Funding for the ONC Health IT Workforce Training Programs, first awarded in March 2010, ended on September 30, 2013. The goal of this program was to train a workforce that would be ready to usher in the digital information age in health care. Reflecting on the past four years, it has been an amazing journey – a reflection of the achievements of the incredible Universities and Community Colleges that participated in this endeavor.

Looking Back -It was February 2010 – “Snowmageddon” – an unprecedented snowfall here in the Washington D.C. region.  During this blizzard, a group of intrepid reviewers met to evaluate grant applications and select the best applicants to administer ONC’s new Workforce programs.  The selected grantees represented educational institutions from across the country and were charged with standing up health IT workforce training programs within six months.  In May 2010, the first grantee meeting was held in Washington, and programs would launch later that year. By September, the funded curriculum development centers began delivering the first batch of training materials to the Community Colleges in the program and the Community Colleges began hiring staff, marketing the health IT training program and enrolling students. This curriculum rollout was incredibly exciting for all involved.

By October 2010, students in these Community College classrooms were being taught by a talented cadre of faculty, many of whom were adjuncts. The curriculum was intense and 19,773 of them successfully completed the training program, nearly twice the initial goal.  To name a few examples of how these institutions used innovative ways to engage students, Community Colleges used to adapting to a changing landscape implemented the training programs with flexibility, meeting the needs of their adult learners by offering distance learning and continuing education. Training stipends provided out-of-work adult students an opportunity to embark on a new career path. University-based training programs also used many of the same curriculum components and were able to stand up robust, 1-2 year health IT training programs, graduating 1,704 students.  Click here for an infographic highlighting key statistics from the workforce programs.

 

Evaluation of the Health IT Workforce Program:  The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago was funded to conduct an independent evaluation of the training programs.  They found that in general, students believed that the programs provided a solid foundation in health IT. Students appreciated opportunities for group work interactions in both online and in-person formats. These work groups allowed students to develop skills such as team building, new work habits, and exposed them to classmates of diverse backgrounds. Students, instructors and administrators appreciated the opportunity to use these online learning platforms.

The programs helped many students find jobs, while some already employed reported a salary/wage increase or a promotion. For example, in surveys conducted by NORC, we found that close to one-third (31%) of community college students working in a health IT job with the same employer as prior to the program received salary increases, while one-quarter experienced a position or job title change.  Among university students working in health IT, more than one-third received a salary increase (38%) and a position or job title change (35%) roughly six months after completing the program. Sixteen percent of community college students and one-quarter (24%) of university students working in health IT earned a promotion after program completion.

A complete evaluation report and the executive summary can be found on HealthIT.gov.

Looking Forward – Future of the Health IT Training:  The pace of the transformation of the nation’s health care system is accelerating, requiring a well-trained health care workforce that can maximize the potential offered by health IT.  That acceleration requires an urgent need to train current health care workers and new trainees to support the use of health IT in order to successfully achieve this transformation.

Recognizing the continuing need for a workforce trained in health IT, the funded colleges and universities that have implemented the training programs will continue to offer health IT curricula. In addition, other colleges and universities are incorporating health IT training into their programs. Colleges will continue to evolve the curriculum to incorporate newly launched initiatives, such as accountable care organizations and other new payment models.  ONC will continue to partner with other Federal agencies to include health IT training into their programs.

These are exciting times for the health care industry and educators, and will require creative and innovative ways to provide workforce training.  Ultimately, flexibility of training will allow students to create their own objectives as needs evolve, establishing a culture of learning while providing care.

 

3 Comments

  1. R Troy says:

    Is the ‘health it program that worked’ the one that ONC funded to have colleges give training around the country to 1. medical people to learn IT, and 2. IT people to learn EHR’s?

    Ignoring #1 for the moment, out here on Long Island this program was mainly a big, bad joke. The college out here did almost everything online, and whether there was any discussion depended on whether the instructor had any free time – which some didn’t. The tests were a mess, with numerous grading problems, answers that didn’t match the text we had to read. IT people felt the IT parts were a complete waste of time. There was very little exposure to EHR’s. No hiring events. No internships. No certification was available until the testing money was gone. I ran into a pile of PMP’s NONE of whom got jobs out of it. The only hiring managers I know inside local hospitals made it clear that the training was not preparing people for anything.

    Oh, as to #1 – you can’t teach someone basic IT skills in a few quick online classes.

    This was a massive waste of time and money, really sad given that there are lots of good IT people now out of work who with a little decent help could readily transition to fill the huge number of empty EHR and HealthIT related slots.

    No survey gets past the reality here.

  2. Diana Strong says:

    I completed the ONC Workforce training at NJ Essex County Community College in September 2011, and in February 2012 passed the Certified Health Technology Specialist competency exam developed by Northern Virginia Community College . Both were funded with tax payer money through grants. It was a 6 month, 3 days a week program that was very intense and could of had the potential to fill the need for a skilled healthit workforce but lacked key ingredients to succeed like revelant EHR software training, apprenticeships or internships while students were enrolled or newly graduated, a system to connect employers with graduates, and at the very least an awareness by key stakeholders of our existence. Even though the certification authority is AHIMA employers I contacted for employment were not aware of this specialty training and certification, and demanded (still do) specific software experience (think EPIC an CERNER), as well as extensive job experience in this specific field. Most jobs require 75% to 100% travel if not downright relocation (with no relocation assistance) which many of the graduates were unable to do as many were unemployed while training for this “in-demand” field. This was billed as workforce development program and marketed to unemployed experienced IT or Healthcare as a way to transition into a new career. Many doctors did/do not have resources to hire more staff and received expensive but not extensive training for their existing staff. Many have complained of a lack of training from the vendor further cutting down productivity and profits. Just check out the discussion boards in a CHTS formerly HITPRO groups on LINKEDIN and you will see proof of this program’s lack of success. I have since moved on into other employment in another field (way less pay and part-time) out of economic need. The suggestion to volunteer and network was unrealistic as many people just could not do that financially, if they were lucky enough to get an organization to accept them as a volunteer. I had secured an offer after doggedly pursuing an EHR Manager from a local hospital to volunteer my time until HR denied me because of quote “sticky labor laws”. This was a big disappointment and a waste of time and talent. Now they want graduates to pay an AHIMA membership (130.00) and pay to acquire CEUs to recertify with no help to connect with an employer that needs our skill set. It is a shame and a waste of tax payer money. Also there has been many delays and downright fraud with “up-coding” and many HIPPA violations.

  3. sue peckelis says:

    I am so bitter about my experience with the HITECH workforce farce. What a waste of time and money.

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