As the healthcare industry undergoes significant changes to its use of information technology, it does and will require a qualified workforce capable of implementing and maintaining current and emerging systems from EHRs to HIEs. “In our experience now having trained 334 students in two and a half years — this has been rapid job development — you cannot break into this field without a credential,” says Leanne Field, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin. Field is charged with training a portion of this workforce in her role as the university’s Director of Public Health, Medical Laboratory Science, and Health Information Technology Programs.
Designing health IT training programs and curricula moving as quickly as technology is a challenge for administrators and educators. Last week, UT Austin celebrated the launch of its HIE laboratory, which gives participants in the intensive 9-week program the unique opportunity to simulate and test the exchange of health information between providers via HIEs. “We’re trying to stay out in front,” continues Field, “And our teaching and our hands-on experiences by design will help students be prepared for the latest technology that they may see in the workplace.”
The work at UT Austin models the experience and mimics the progress of the health IT industry as a whole. Just as the latter has prepared for HIE in the next phase of the EHR Incentive Programs, Stage 2 Meaningful Use, so too is the university has developed an environment for testing the secure flow of health information:
We’re deliberately building exercises for them to gain the understanding of how the transmission of healthcare data works through the HIE. So the students send and receive continuity of care documents using the EHRs, they view patient data, they check patient matching, and they are able to compare the physician progress notes with the CCDs and seeing the difference about what kinds of information can be passed.
Another similarity between real HIEs and the lab is that the success of HIE lab depends on partnerships between stakeholders, albeit for a different end goal. “The university agreed that it would be great to work together to develop a curriculum that would really prepare students to be job-ready for the health IT workforce in partnership with industry because that’s been the missing link,” observes Field. HIE lab is the direct result of collaboration between the university, Texas eHealth Alliance, and various HIE and EHR developers. These partnerships have borne fruit in providing the program with its faculty of health IT professionals.
Building a meaningful program for health IT
In two years, UT Austin went from no health IT program to one that has produced more than 300 trained health IT professionals. According to Field, being without a program actually simplified the process of building one from scratch:
Because of that were we able to start from scratch and build something that was different from anyone else in the nation, and the key to our success has been the partnership with industry to help us craft a program that is current and designed to stay current and meet industry needs so that we are really training students who are job-ready.
While the initial funding of a $2.7-million grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology got the program up and running, the latest development (i.e., opening of the HIE lab) is the result of additional funding from the university itself, which doled out $500,000 for the lab. And that’s just the beginning.