Dr. Blumenthal’s latest letter, in which he announced the latest round of HIT funding, including $32 million for RECs, $16 million in new HIE Challenge Grants, and $32 million in second year funding for community colleges, was a positive step forward for the healthcare information technology field. I think the $32 million earmarked for community colleges was the most significant prong of this funding round. Putting money toward bridging the gap of the current healthcare IT professional shortage is incredibly important, especially when a recent Hay Group study showed that 47 percent of healthcare organizations reported challenges with recruitment, retention, or both. Blumenthal says in his letter: “We remain on track to ramp up and graduate an estimated 10,500 students a year through our community college programs.” The HITECH Act is creating a prevailing wind of change in healthcare organizations, allowing them to get on the EMR bandwagon, but unless these organizations invest in the talent to harness these “winds of change,” they will be hard-pressed to succeed.
Not only does attention need to be paid to educating IT professionals, but we also need to educate the clinicians using these information systems. I had a conversation a few weeks ago with Lisa Levine, M.P.H., vice president-operations, Family Health Center of Worcester, Mass., who was a participant at the HIT Standards Committee Implementation Workgroup earlier this month. She herself wondered how clinicians were to be educated in the future. “My one curiosity, as someone who has worked in medical schools, is how are we training the next generation of doctors?,” Levine asked. “Right now the burden of training is on institutions where they work. How do we go down the road where this training takes place during their education and not during their work experience?”
The TIGER Virtual Learning Center is one example of a wide-scale educational initiative that will cull a tremendous amount of online informatics resources for nurses and other clinicians to learn from. According to TIGER planning documents, the VLC will feature:
- Scenario-based learning including pre-post tests
- Traditional online learning
- Second Life and Educational gaming/modules/scenarios
The TIGER VLC, which will be debuting this spring, will be a topic of a feature story in the May issue of Healthcare Informatics.