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July 2013

EHR Management Positions Ripe for the Picking
By Lindsey Getz
For The Record
Vol. 25 No. 10 P. 8

As government mandates continue to drive more health care facilities to fully implement electronic records, opportunities in EHR management abound. According to a 2012 report from WANTED Analytics, EHR management is the most sought-after skill for health care employers, with more than 15,000 online job ads seeking these professionals, a 31% increase from 2011. With numbers such as these, many HIM professionals would be foolish not to explore their options in this ever-expanding specialty.

Filling a Gap
“This is definitely a field that is really booming,” says Bill Rudman, PhD, RHIA, AHIMA’s vice president of education visioning and executive director of the AHIMA Foundation. “The mandate to have a national health network by 2014 was pushed back primarily because of a lack of training—especially in rural and underserved areas—so for those who are interested in this line of work, the job market is huge, particularly in rural and underserved areas.”

Canada also is experiencing a significant shortage of professionals with EHR management skills. And like the United States, it’s undergoing a major transition as health care facilities make the move from paper to electronic records. The Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA) released a workforce transformation strategy report containing information on preparing and educating HIM professionals as new roles become available during the transformation. The CHIMA hopes to educate members on the importance of the evolving and expanding role of certified HIM professionals.

As these opportunities become available, more HIM professionals are interested in receiving training. “Everyone knows we need new curriculum for our current students and future grads,” says Gail Crook, CHE, CHIM, CEO of the CHIMA and registrar for the Canadian College of Health Information Management. “But the question is, what do we do with our members in the field who need new training? What we need to focus on is the gap between their current roles and what they need to do in order to make the transition into a new role as EHR-related opportunities continue to grow.”

Seeking Training
For HIM professionals looking into EHR management, Rudman recommends focusing on educational opportunities that offer hands-on experience. “I’d be wary of any program or class that is purely theory based,” he says. “You need to try and seek out programs that actually have virtual lab training or EHR training integrated into the classwork.”

AHIMA has created a series of EHR training modules that feature not only lectures on the practice of managing EHR implementation but also provide actual hands-on experience. The virtual lab includes coding and statistical application programs as well as EHR capabilities.

Resurrection University in Chicago is one of the teaching institutions utilizing AHIMA’s virtual lab to great success. Catherine McIlwain, MSEd, RHIA, director of health informatics and information management in the school’s College of Allied Health, says students also should be on the lookout for project management classes. “Project management is essential in EHR training because a professional needs to be able to formulate a plan and carry it through,” she notes. “The implementation of the EHR system is often the biggest challenge. It’s easy to decide what product you want and purchase it, but a health care organization needs to have professionals who actually know how to roll it out—people who have the ability to formulate a plan that says, ‘This is how we need to do it,’ and then actually carry out that plan.”

Finding Time
Because HIM professionals have demanding jobs, it’s often difficult to incorporate EHR management training into their already hectic schedules. To avoid burnout, McIlwain advises looking for programs that offer an online 16-week semester as opposed to eight weeks. “Resurrection used to be an eight-week term, and I just found that it was too difficult for students to stay on top of the work at a pace like that,” she says. “It was just too fast for busy working professionals. Resurrection is now in a 16-week semester, and I find that it’s more manageable for the working student.”

Crook says there’s a need to be innovative as more training modules, workshops, and programs are created to fill the need for educating professionals. “Whether it’s weekend courses or online programs, these training opportunities need to take into account the fact that the students are already employed,” she says.

Entry Barriers
There’s no question that EHR management opportunities are plentiful. At Alberta Health Services in Canada, where the transition to an EHR is under way, new HIM career opportunities are emerging, including content compliance, information management, business analysis, quality management, education, and training. “HIM professionals must continue to evolve our skill sets to meet the challenges of the hybrid and electronic health record,” says Karanne Miller Lambton, CHIM, CPHIT, CPEHR, executive director of provincial operations, standards, and strategies.

At Alberta Health Services, the requirements of new EHR roles are broad, ranging from developing the subject matter expertise required to provide advisory guidance on standards to creating taxonomy for electronic content management or defining the organizational legal record of care. For many, it involves a lot of new skill sets.

EHRs are where information management and technology morph, Rudman says. “Therefore, those coming into EHR management need to have at least some understanding of different technologies, and they need to understand health care,” he says. “One key thing we learned when we started EHR training is that a lot of IT people don’t have the medical terminology down at all, and that’s a really critical factor for an EHR implementation specialist. Coding may also be lacking. But both coding and terminology skills are incredibly important to the EHR job.”

Some HIM professionals may be short on technology experience, a deficit Rudman says can be remedied through the appropriate training. “For the HIM professionals, it’s probably the technology skills that are lacking and could use some brushing up,” he says. “For the technology folks, make sure you’re getting that coding experience and the terminology clusters.”

Oddly enough, HIM professionals may be their own biggest obstacle. “I have been CEO for 10 years now, and our biggest issue is our own members,” Crook says. “We are struggling to get their attention about the importance of training and how these roles are changing. But the EHR folks know the industry needs new roles, and the interesting thing is that there are quite a few non-HIM folks who want to get in. They see the benefit of these new roles, and if HIM members don’t recognize the importance of continuing their training and evolving with these transitions, they may risk missing out.”

McIlwain agrees, adding that even those who aren’t immediately entering an EHR field still should seriously consider becoming educated. “It’s a skill you should have, and I’d advise getting the education as soon as possible,” she says. “You will be dealing with EHRs—there’s no getting away from that. Even if you’re not directly involved with electronic records, there are skills that you’ll need to know as the field changes and the eventual demise of paper records takes place. In my opinion, it’s so important to stay up-to-date with the training that those who don’t risk being left behind and may even have to retire. That’s how big this shift is going to be.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.