Health IT is Coming Soon to a Class Near You

Chitra Mohla | August 25, 2010

The HITECH Act is about more than putting computers on the desks of physicians nationwide. It’s about using health information technology (IT) to improve the safety, quality, and effectiveness of our health care system. That takes more than computers. It takes qualified, trained people who are willing to work together toward that goal.

In fact, one of the barriers to the widespread adoption of health IT has been a shortage of qualified workers who can help the nation’s health care providers make the transition.  The current push for greater adoption of health IT will create even more jobs that need to be filled by qualified workers.

To address the workforce shortage, the HITECH Act authorized the creation of a program to assist in the establishment and/or expansion of programs to train a skilled workforce to facilitate the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs).  The Community College Consortia to Educate Health Information Professionals is designed to train “health IT practitioners” who can meet the needs of hospitals and physicians as they move to an electronic health care system.  EHR vendors and public health facilities will also have jobs that these professionals can fill.

Five community college consortia were funded to implement the training programs. The goal of the programs is to train 10,500 people a year in six workforce roles. The five consortia include 84 community colleges.  Each regional consortium is led by a lead community college that is responsible for the coordination of the program in the region.

The community colleges will offer six-month non-degree programs for people already involved in the health care or information technology fields so they can quickly learn the skills necessary to ensure the rapid and effective adoption of health IT. Courses will be available both at the colleges and through distance learning. Each student will receive an institutional certificate or equivalent for successfully completing the program. In some cases, financial assistance may be available to enable students to take advantage of this opportunity. In six months or less, qualified applicants can be ready for jobs in the growing area of health IT. The colleges will help students who complete the program find jobs in their new fields.

I’m pleased to announce that, just in time for the coming school year, the curricula are developed, and community colleges across the country are staffing up and recruiting students for the first wave of classes. We expect classes to start by September 30 in most of the colleges. That means the time to apply is now.

The six workforce roles for which students can train are:

  • Practice workflow and information management redesign specialists: The goal of health IT is to improve processes, not just computerize them. An essential part of the transition will be to assess workflows in a practice, suggest changes to increase the quality and efficiency of care and facilitate reporting, and work with providers to implement these changes. These jobs are well-suited for people with experience in practice management or IT in a clinical setting.
  • Clinician/practitioner consultants: The colleges will offer programs for licensed health professionals so that they can apply their specialized clinical knowledge to selecting hardware/software, working with vendors, and ensuring that clinical goals are met.
  • Implementation support specialists: Specialists will be needed to install and test health IT systems in clinical settings to ensure that the systems are easy and effective to use. The Community College Consortia will provide training for those who have IT or information management experience but not necessarily in the health care arena.
  • Implementation managers: Those who have administrative or managerial experience in health or IT environments may seek additional training to oversee and manage the transition to health IT for providers.
  • Technical/software support: Providers will need ongoing support to diagnose IT problems, develop solutions, and keep systems running smoothly and securely. Those with IT or information management experience may want to train for these positions.
  • Trainers: The need for skilled trainers will be ongoing. Practice staff will have to be trained on new systems and upgrades. And new staff will have to be trained as they come onboard. IT specialists with training experience can receive instruction in the design and delivery of training programs.

We at ONC are excited about the potential of the Community College Consortia – for the students who will train for promising new careers, for the health care providers who will have qualified staff to guide them through the transition to health IT, and for all the patients who stand to benefit from the increased quality, safety and effectiveness of care made possible by digital information technology.

To learn more, contact the consortium leader for your geographical area.