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Building the Health IT Workforce

Dr. Charles Friedman | April 7, 2010

We frequently talk about health IT with an emphasis on the technology. But at the heart of the transformation of our health system, it’s really all about people. Above all, it’s about improving care for all Americans.

Health care providers are passionate about the work they do. As the nation moves toward meaningful use of health information technology, it is also about preparing a well-trained, equally passionate health IT workforce. Although there are many excellent training programs currently in place, the nation needs more health IT workers than the current training capacity can produce, and it needs individuals specifically trained for a very wide range of important roles.

Working with the educational community, we have identified 12 specific health IT workforce roles. All 12 roles are required to support adoption of health IT and sustain its meaningful use. Six of the 12 roles can be addressed through intensive short-term training based in community colleges, and the other six require longer programs university-based training. Every person trained to undertake each of these roles must understand, in ways appropriate to that role, BOTH health care AND information technology.

Now, we have laid the foundation for building the health IT workforce by allocating $84 million in grants to domestic institutions of higher education. These grants are distributed over four complementary programs that together will rapidly begin meeting the nation’s needs. Two of the programs will directly support greatly expanded training in community colleges and universities. Another program will create and disseminate high quality educational materials that will be used in the community college program, but will also be available to the entire nation. The fourth will create health IT competency examinations to help verify that trainees have the knowledge and skills required to be effective in their jobs.

Because the workforce need is acute, these new programs will ramp up very quickly. Training in community colleges and universities will begin this fall. All programs of study will be intense and highly rigorous to produce trained workers as quickly as possible. The programs will be flexibly designed to meet the needs of adult learners. We expect that many of the trainees will come to the program with prior training in either health care or IT. The program will move them into the workforce as rapidly as possible by building on what they already know and filling in any gaps in their knowledge.

Finally, as the nation recovers from the recession, health IT will be a source of increasing numbers of well-paying, fulfilling jobs. At full capacity, the community colleges directly supported by these grants will produce over 10,000 workers per year.

These programs will position us for success in transforming health care through meaningful use of information technology.