The nonprofit OCHIN, which provides health IT services to more than 500 health clinics across 47 states, has launched OCHIN+, a learning and workforce development program designed to help community health centers address challenges such as provider burden and unprecedented levels of staff turnover, while nurturing a sustainable and representative healthcare workforce for the future.
Founded in 2000 with a vision to bring high-tech tools to six community health centers in Oregon, today Portland-based OCHIN serves clinics working with at least 5 million diverse and medically complex patients across 47 states.
The new OCHIN+ portfolio launched with a certified medical coding and billing program.
In a Q&A published on OCHIN’s website, Engers Fernandez, M.D., vice president of learning at OCHIN, explained why OCHIN decided it was critical to create a workforce development program now. He described it as core to the organization’s larger mission as a learning organization focused on advancing health equity.
“Access to affordable, culturally and linguistically appropriate care is critical to building the trust needed to improve the health of local communities and address national health disparities—and that requires a sustainable, skilled and representative heathcare workforce,” he said. “Our members, and many others across the healthcare industry, are struggling to manage burnout and retain talent in the wake of COVID-19, and many workers are leaving the industry. At the same time, there are many new workers who want to begin careers in healthcare but may be faced with financial obstacles that prevent them from enrolling in traditional courses. This creates an opportunity for OCHIN to help by providing specialized skills and training opportunities while meeting the unique needs of the community health centers and critical access hospitals we serve. It’s a matter of matching these organizations with a diverse workforce who will have the right skillset. By leveraging our expertise to prepare these new workers, we are providing a solution that can augment the clinical capacity of community care organizations and help mitigate current workforce challenges.”
Fernandez said the medical billing and coding program is focused in three key areas: fostering financial excellency, fostering operational excellence and improving clinical outcomes. The program, through the certification of the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC), teaches students everything that other medical billing and coding institutions teach, as well as specifics related to the unique needs of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and FQHC look-alikes.
Successful completion of the program provides students with certifications in both medical billing and coding – whereas many other courses provide one or the other. Not only will students learn the systems they’ll actually be working on in their careers, he said, but they’ll have the opportunity to complete a paid internship in the OCHIN network.
He added that there will eventually be a program focused on health information management, which will prepare students for careers in fields such as electronic health records analyses or engineering. “We’re building a curriculum focused on digital medical assistance to help medical assistants prepare for jobs in telehealth by gaining practical experience with MyChart, Epic and other virtual tools.”