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July 16, 2012

The ONC Updates HIT Curriculum
By Maura Keller
For The Record
Vol. 24 No. 13 P. 6

In 2010, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) developed a curriculum to support the HIT industry called the ONC Health IT Curriculum Project. The recently released third version offers new, innovative material for users.

According to Michelle Murray, an ONC program analyst, version 3.0 falls in line with the project’s goal of providing training materials that are continuously being improved in both content and format. “The health IT industry is always changing, so the materials need to be updated regularly to stay current,” she says. “In addition to providing updated materials, the download site steadily attracts new users from all over the world, so newcomers will always have access to the latest version.”

Murray points out that the latest version features improved accessibility for the disabled, streamlined content, and new information regarding meaningful use and privacy and security.

“The ONC grant award to the five curriculum centers in 2010 stipulated the delivery of three successively improved versions of the health IT curriculum,” says William Hersh, MD, an informatics professor at Oregon Health & Science University, which serves as the National Training and Dissemination Center. “Each version would improve based on feedback from users as well as changes occurring over time in the field.”

Changes addressed in the latest version include the new HIPAA rules being rolled out this year. “We also aimed to improve the accessibility of the curriculum for those with disabilities,” Hersh says. “The significance for users is that the new version is improved, up-to-date, and more consistent in its presentation.”

Hersh says the product is designed more for educators than end users. “It is not a self-study curriculum for health IT, although parts of it could be used that way,” he notes. “But the real audience for the curriculum is educators, trainers, and others who will take the materials and adapt them for courses, training programs, etc.”

Version 3.0 improves the quality of materials by adopting a common format for learning objectives, slides, references, and other elements in the curriculum. “Errors discovered in earlier versions were fixed,” Hersh says. “Enhancements were made based on feedback from users. Updates were made to the curriculum to add new information, such as the newly released HIPAA rules from the HITECH Act. Another key difference is more rigorous adherence to Section 504 federal accessibility standards.”

A Valuable Tool
For those looking to stay in stride with the many changes occurring in the HIT profession, the ONC Health IT Curriculum Project has become an important resource. “A well-educated workforce is needed to achieve widespread adoption of electronic health records,” Murray says. “The Curriculum Development Centers program has developed an innovative product to satisfy a global demand for high-quality, cost-effective health IT training materials.”

The curriculum is available at www.onc-ntdc.info, where users can set up a free account and download some or all of the 11 gigabytes of materials.

According to Hersh, more than 280,000 units of the previous version were downloaded (each of the 20 components, equivalent to courses, consists of eight to 12 units) by 5,217 users. While the vast majority of the users are from the United States, individuals from nearly 100 countries set up accounts to download material. A mix of educators and individuals connected to healthcare organizations have participated.

Word about the program has spread, propelling the user base to enjoy a steady increase since the materials were first offered to the public in June 2011. When version 3.0 debuted in May, there had been a total of more than 400,000 unit downloads across the 20 components since the first version’s release.

“A happy surprise is the growing international interest,” Murray says. “We’re still hoping that someone will visit the grantees’ download site from Antarctica.”

What the Future Holds
Federal funding for the program has been extended through the end of the year, but the outlook beyond that is cloudy. “The awardees are hoping to find a way to continue to offer the product via an open-source platform,” Murray says.

Hersh says other avenues of keeping the project moving forward are being monitored. “We are actively looking for public and/or private organizations that might be interested in funding further development beyond [2012],” Hersh says. “We are also exploring different content development, editorial, and governance models consistent with the global reach of the Internet. We are committed, however, to keeping the curriculum of the highest quality. Those who are using the curriculum or plan to do so should keep an eye to future developments. We will communicate future plans through the curriculum website, the ONC website, and my blog.”

— Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.


ONC Investing Heavily in HIT Education
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has not been shy about spending money to further advance efforts to expand the HIT workforce. Thanks to the ONC’s efforts, the following have occurred:

• Five regional groups of 82 community colleges in all 50 states have received $68 million in grants to develop or improve nondegree HIT training programs that can be completed in six months or less. The funded community colleges aim to train more than 10,500 new HIT professionals annually.

• Nine grants totaling $32 million have been awarded to colleges and universities to quickly establish or expand HIT training programs.

• Five universities have each been awarded $10 million for the development of educational materials for the Community College Consortia program. The materials will also be made available to other schools across the country.

• A two-year, $6 million grant has been awarded to fund the development of competency exams for HIT professionals.

— MK


More information on the ONC Health IT Curriculum Project can be found at http://healthit.hhs.gov/curriculumdevelopment and http://informaticsprofessor.blogspot.com.