Help Wanted: Skilled Health IT Workforce to Modernize Health Care

Dec. 31, 2009

A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

As health care providers and hospitals across the nation incorporate electronic health records into routine patient care, the demand for highly skilled health IT professionals will rapidly grow.  We will need a workforce that not only understands the technology and how it functions, but also its implications for patient care and workflow in clinical settings.  When my practice implemented electronic records a decade ago, we were fortunate to have our hospital’s highly skilled IT support staff working shoulder-to-shoulder with us.  These staff got us over the considerable hurdle of learning to use EHRs.  Unfortunately, not every hospital or practice has the benefit of this kind of help, and the necessary personnel are in short supply.  Various studies have shown that we need at least 50,000 additional qualified health IT workers to assist hospitals and physicians as they move to adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records.  Clearly, we must “grow” a corps of talented individuals with different backgrounds to fill a wide range of important roles, to support rising demand sparked by the Medicare and Medicaid incentives authorized by HITECH.

Last month I announced the availability of $80 million to fund community college training programs and curriculum development to help strengthen the health IT workforce.  These grants were the first in a series of programs, authorized by the HITECH Act, to address the need for the skilled workforce to help providers put in place and maintain secure, interoperable EHR systems.

The first, the Community College Consortia Program, totaling $70 million, will help create programs of study in health IT that trainees with some background in health care or IT will be able to complete in six months or less.  Graduates will be equipped to work at the frontlines of adoption and meaningful use, helping doctors, nurses, and hospitals set up and use health IT systems in their practices and workplaces.

The second, the Curriculum Development Centers Program, totaling $10 million, will fund the development of educational materials to support the community college training programs.  The availability of these resources will allow these programs to ramp up quickly so graduates can begin meeting workforce demands.

Today’s announcement of two new workforce development grant programs includes an additional $38 million to establish a competency testing program and university-based training programs

The Competency Examination Program will provide $6 million to an institution of higher education to create an objective mechanism to assess basic competency for individuals completing programs like those developed through the Community College Consortia Program.  

The University-Based Training Program is expected to generate graduates in vital highly specialized health IT roles over the course of three years.  The program will provide $32 million to support academic program development that will lead to a university-issued certificate of advanced training (e.g., post-baccalaureate or graduate certificate) or a master’s degree.

As these workforce programs are rolled out, you can find grants information and corresponding application deadlines at http://HealthIT.HHS.Gov/HITECHgrants.

Modernizing our health care system requires the mobilization of an educated and talented workforce.  By supporting such training we will accelerate the meaningful use of health IT and create tens of thousands of secure jobs when and where they are desperately needed.

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