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Feds to spend $144M to train health IT workers

More than 80 schools will prep 50,000 workers for IT jobs

July 16, 2010 06:05 AM ET

Computerworld - Beginning this fall, more than 80 community colleges and universities in the U.S. will begin training health care IT workers under a government grant program created to help fill an estimated 50,000 jobs needed to assist doctors and hospitals as they roll out electronic medical records (EMR).

The estimated 50,000 trainees are in addition to people already being trained in existing IT programs in U.S. universities, according to Dr. Charles Friedman, chief scientific officer at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The agency estimates it will spend $144 million in grant money to develop and implement curricula in colleges and universities to train the health care IT workers.

Money for the education and training effort was included in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009.

Friedman said the training programs are aimed at people who already have health care or IT backgrounds -- not workers from other fields who have no previous experience or training in either discipline.

"A landscaper might be able to enter one of these programs, but if this is a person with no health care or IT background, it's unlikely that person will be able to achieve what's needed for these jobs in six months," Friedman said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designed a curriculum to train people for 12 specific roles. The jobs are broken down into two major groups: Those for which health care IT workers can be trained at community colleges in six-month certification programs, and those that require one to three years of training at universities, such as senior clinician leaders, privacy and security specialists and research and development scientist.

Some of the six-month programs include training to be a practice workflow and information management redesign specialist, clinician consultant, and implementation support specialist.

On average, each school has or will get about $1 million to implement the curriculum; many of the schools have banded together in five regional consortia. Students graduating from the HITECH-funded programs will receive certificates in their specialties.

A significant part of the training will be for staffers at 60 regional extension centers (REC), the public-private partnerships that will eventually assist in the deployment of EMR systems at rural hospitals and physician practices with 10 or fewer doctors. Smaller health care operations like those will need help in order to meet the federal government's "meaningful use" criteria and get reimbursements for the EMR rollouts.

The RECs, which are still being developed, will employ anywhere from 10 to 30 workers. Their responsibilities will include helping health care providers with the reimbursement process and assessing whether health care facilities have the infrastructure to implement EMR systems. The health care IT employees will also work with doctors and health care facilities to select an EMR system, oversee its installation, perform a workflow analysis of the effort and certify whether the EMR deployment meets the government's meaningful-use standards.

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