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HIT Dyersburg
By Mary Anne Gates

As many local jobs began to disappear, Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC) in northwestern Tennessee started looking for a way to provide area residents with new job skills.

Focusing on HIT made sense because, along with the federal EHR adoption mandate expected to create a demand for skilled workers, DSCC already had an approved HIT program in place. Additionally, DSCC could offer HIT training for free thanks to a HITECH Workforce Development grant funded by the ARRA.

“DSCC already had an accredited health information technology program and was very interested in receiving the grant due to the unemployment rate in the west Tennessee area served by the college,” says Steve Robey, director of the EHR grant program.

Requirements for entry into the six-month course include previous education or work-related experience in a medical or IT discipline. Anyone who already possesses a bachelor’s or master’s degree in any field also qualifies for entrance. Currently, 294 students are enrolled in the program, says Robey.

DSCC trains students for roles as clinical/practitioner consultants, practice workflow and information management redesign specialists, and trainers.

Students who successfully complete the program receive a continuing education certificate. Successful completion of the curriculum requires students to achieve a 70% overall average in all required classes in order to receive a free voucher for the competency exam offered through Pearson Vue testing centers. Students can learn more about this exam at www.hitproexams.org, says Robey.

Comments from students about the free program range from its challenging coursework to their appreciation for the new perspective on the role of HIT in healthcare.

“This program has made me much more aware of how an EHR will benefit patients and the healthcare industry as a whole. Once mature, a lifetime longitudinal electronic health record will be a powerful tool in the care of patients,” says Mary Lynn Smith, who completed the HIT program in the fall of 2010.

“This program helped me to further my understanding of the history of health information technology as well as current applications directed toward the transition to a fully implemented EHR,” says Smith, an inpatient coder at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Union City, Tennessee.

DSCC is just one of 81 community colleges nationwide and one of three in Tennessee offering this intensive nondegree education program to prepare people for HIT jobs.

HIT Professionals Are in Demand
As the nation moves toward a more technologically advanced healthcare system, providers will need highly skilled HIT experts to support them in the adoption and meaningful use of EHRs.

To help address this growing demand, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has funded the Health IT Workforce Development Program. The goal is to train a new workforce of HIT professionals who will be ready to help providers implement EHRs to improve healthcare quality and safety and enhance cost-effectiveness.

The ONC workforce development programs are graduating high-caliber HIT professionals interested in supporting the growing and evolving HIT industry. The majority of graduates are midcareer healthcare or IT professionals who have received specialized HIT training in the 12 ONC workforce roles and are now ready for employment.

The ONC has awarded $116 million in funding for the four following Health IT Workforce Development Program activities:

Community College Consortia to Educate HIT Professionals
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 will help train more than 10,500 new HIT professionals by this year. The programs are designed for professionals with an IT or healthcare background and focus on training students for the following professional roles:

• practice workflow and information management redesign specialists;

• clinician/practitioner consultants;

• implementation support specialists;

• implementation managers;

• technical/software support; and

• trainers.

For more information, visit http://healthit.hhs.gov/communitycollege.

Program of Assistance for University-Based Training
Nine grants totaling $32 million have been awarded to colleges and universities to quickly establish or expand HIT training programs for HIT professional roles. The six professional roles are as follows:

• clinician or public health leader;

• HIM and exchange specialist;

• health information privacy and security specialist;

• research and development scientist;

• programmers and software engineer; and

• HIT subspecialist.

Over the course of the grant, these programs will help more than 1,500 people receive certificates of advanced study or master’s degrees in HIT. All the certificate programs can be completed in one year or less, and all the master’s degree programs can be completed in two years or less.

For more information, visit http://healthit.hhs.gov/programs/universitytraining.

Curriculum Development Centers
Ten million dollars have been awarded to five universities 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.

For more information, visit http://healthit.hhs.gov/curriculumdevelopment.

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

For more information, visit http://healthit.hhs.gov/competencyexam.

Mary Anne Gates is a medical writer based in the Chicago area.