Stimulus Funding Speeds Health IT Training

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Key Health Care IT Trends

The good news is that primary focus now seems to be squarely on improving the overall quality of health care and the reduction of human errors.

It's always tough to pay the bills and still keep up with the new training you need in IT. That's one of the reasons I found the federally funded new program in health care informatics especially interesting.


I recently spoke with Julie Jacko, the lead at the University of Minnesota in a consortium that was awarded a $5.15 million grant from the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to develop workforce training in health care IT. This money from the federal stimulus package is to quickly train people in the intersection of health care and IT and to get them out into the workforce. Eight other colleges and universities received similar funding.


Separately, a nationwide network of 62 Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers were funded as well to help small medical clinics and doctors move to electronic health records.


Jacko says the shortage of qualified people has been a big constraint on the movement to electronic records. She explains health care informatics this way:

Health informatics is concerned with the use of technology to do everything from collect data at point of care, store the data, analyze the data and make good decisions about that data. There are a lot of analytical components to that. Analytics is really the treatment of data and may or may not involve electronic technologies to do that.

There are two levels of training: Type I, which primarily awards certificates in six to nine months, and Type II, which is a master's-degree level covering up to 24 months. There are six roles that the Office of the National Coordinator has identified as areas of particular need in the workforce: clinical and public health leaders, research and development scientists, specialists in health information exchange, programmers and software engineers, health information technology subspecialists-these may be people wanting to gain some extra knowledge in a particular area-and finally privacy and security.


The key word in her explanation is that these will be "new" people in the field. They might come from health care jobs or IT jobs, but not both. (They also might be students.) You can find more details on the website of the consortium, called UP-HI.


Of the role health informatics will play in the implementation of electronic health records and process-improvement efforts, Jacko explains:

... health informaticists, the people we're training, will have a central role in this because they know how to program these systems, how to implement these systems, how to exchange information using these systems.

The best part-aside from emerging from the program highly in demand-is that tuition is free in the certificate programs and 60 percent is paid by the federal funding for the Type II training. The Type II training also comes with a $15,000 stipend plus health insurance up to a certain level. You can understand why the program has been deluged with applications.