In a survey released October 6 by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), respondents said IT staffing deficiencies would affect their chances to implement an electronic health record (EHR) and receive stimulus funding. More than 70 percent of respondents said their organizations lack staff to implement clinical applications.
Help may be on the way. The HIT Workforce Training Program is an online, six-month non-degree community college program designed to get a qualified pool of workers into the pipeline to help with EHR adoption.
Healthcare Informatics Contributing Editor David Raths recently interviewed Kay Gooding of Pitt Community College in Greenville, N.C. She is project director of Region D in the Southeast, the largest of five regional Health Information Technology Consortia funded by $80 million in grants from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.
Healthcare Informatics: Pitt Community College was one of five lead awardees in the workforce consortia program. Can you give us a progress report on your 13-member consortium’s efforts?
Kay Gooding: The program was required to begin not later than Sept. 30, 2010, and Region D is happy to announce that we had 495 students in this first cohort. Each college will continue to enroll students, some every few weeks, some with longer intervals and some on a rolling admissions basis. Each member college operates independently in how they schedule student entry into courses. Region D is required to have 3,300 students complete the courses in each year of this program.
HCI: How was the curriculum developed?
Gooding: Five universities are involved in creating it: Columbia University [New York City], Johns Hopkins University [Baltimore], University of Alabama-Birmingham, Duke University [Durham, N.C.], and Oregon Health Sciences University [Portland]. The curriculum is being developed for ease of use online and in face-to-face classes by utilizing voice over PowerPoint, audio files, transcripts and other techniques for easy uploading into learning management systems in use at member colleges. The first half of the curriculum is in the hands of the member colleges, with the second half expected by the end of October.
HCI: What kind of positions will the people who have gone through the program fill in the healthcare system, and how many job openings are we talking about?
Gooding: Trainees are expected to be trained in six HIT priority workforce roles, including: practice workflow and information management redesign specialists; clinician/practitioner consultants; implementation support specialists; implementation managers; and technical/software support staff and trainers. It is estimated that over the next five years, approximately 50,000 qualified health IT workers will be required to meet the demands of hospitals and physicians.
HCI: Will people come to the program with IT skills but no healthcare experience? Or healthcare experience but no IT skills? Or no experience in either?
Gooding: Students must have experience/background either in IT or healthcare. We cannot accept students without one of these.
HCI: At Pitt Community College, have you already started partnering with healthcare providers or other organizations on internships or job placements for these students? What would you like potential employers to know about the program?
Gooding: We are beginning to align ourselves with employers first by advising them of the availability of this education and the expectations that they might have of people who complete this program. We are beginning to assess the needs for internships vs. capstone projects and to determine which best meet the needs of students and employers. Employers need to know that these students will have had hands-on experience in implementation and maintenance via lab opportunities for a portion of this training and that these students will have a core knowledge base to enable the EHR to get "up and running.”
HCI: Are your efforts connected in any way to the Regional Extension (RECs) centers, Beacon Communities, or other ONC-funded initiatives?
Gooding: Absolutely. Every member college is working with partners from these groups in every way possible. The RECs should serve as a wonderful opportunity for employment as they will be involved firsthand with the physicians implementing the EHR.
HCI: The students completing these six-month programs will get certificates. Will community colleges begin to look at developing longer, more involved degree programs?
Gooding: The member colleges within Region D were selected because they already had in place HIT programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM). They will be interfacing this additional training within those courses and perhaps as separate training, as necessary, most with an intent toward credit courses as soon as this can be approved by their curriculum review processes.
HCI: The two-year timeline for the funding required you to act fast to get this program in place. Is that the most challenging thing about coordinating the consortium?
Gooding: The fact that the curriculum was being developed simultaneously to the training planning was very challenging. For example, we will not have the second half of the curriculum until the end of October. Developing a training model without full access to the curriculum materials has required flexibility, but that is one of the mainstays of this entire training process. The ability to implement change and innovation is one of the characteristics of the HIT professional and since our member colleges all have CAHIIM-accredited HIT programs, we feel very satisfied that we can accomplish what we need to in order to make this successful.