Sunday, December 6, 2009

Section 3016 Has Arrived!

The long-anticipated Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for health information technology (HIT) workforce development, as specified in Section 3016 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), have been released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). These FOAs reveal the overall plans of ONC for quickly ramping up the workforce to meet the ARRA electronic health record (EHR) adoption goals. This will be done by two specific FOAs, one that funds development of five regional consortia of community colleges around the country, who in turn will implement curricula developed by the other FOA that funds five national curriculum development centers.

ONC has also provided its own analysis and plan for the workforce. Both FOAs state a need to train 51,000 workers to implement the ARRA HIT agenda. They list specifically six job roles for this workforce, noting that preparation for any them will typically require six months of intense training for individuals with appropriate backgrounds. These individuals could work for a variety of entities, including health care organizations, regional extension centers, government organizations, vendors, and others. (It would be great for those of us with an interest in workforce research and education to see their data and analysis of the workforce needs. I hope they release it at some point.)

Four of the job roles are "mobile adoption support positions" and involve personnel who carry out the initial EHR implementation at a site and then move on to the next one. The specific roles for these positions are:
  • Practice workflow and information management redesign specialists
  • Clinician/practitioner consultants
  • Implementation support specialists
  • Implementation managers
The other two job roles are "permanent staff of healthcare delivery and public health sites" and provide ongoing support after implementation. The specific roles for these positions include:
  • Technical/software support staff
  • Trainers
Although this process presents a coherent and specific plan to quickly ramp up the workforce, an approach with which I concur, I also hope it also raises the visibility of clinical informatics as an important component of EHR adoption and a career option for people who aspire to work professionally (and academically) in HIT. I am somewhat disappointed that the programs developed will not have pathways that articulate with more formal degree programs (e.g., baccalaureate and master's degrees, or even associate degrees for that matter). I do hope that educators who participate will be given the option to find ways to make further articulation and career enhancement happen. In addition, while I know that community colleges have historically risen to the challenge of quickly implementing skills-based training, I also wonder whether those with no experience or expertise teaching this content will be able to ramp up quickly enough. Where, for example, will they find faculty with sufficient expertise to do more than just deliver a packaged curriculum?

One also has to wonder whether those with short-term training will have the complex array of knowledge and skills in areas like healthcare workflow, change management, quality measurement, and oral and written communication (among even more) that are so essential for successful EHR implementation in complicated entities like healthcare organizations. We will no doubt be witnessing a great workforce and education "experiment" (just like, I suppose, all of the ARRA EHR agenda). I look forward to being a "subject" in that experiment.

On to the details. The first FOA (EP-HIT-10-001) is entitled, Community College Consortia to Educate Health Information Technology Professionals in Health Care Program. This FOA divides the country into five regions, each of which will have one consortium. Each consortium has a target amount of funding, number of students, and number of institutions. (Oregon is in Region A, the smallest of the five regions in terms of population served.) The overall allocation is $70 million.

Each consortium will have a lead organization and targeted number of member community colleges (varying from 5-8 in Region A to 17-23 in Region E in the Northeast). Each will have an expected minimum number of students each year, with the overall goal of training 10,500 students annually. Programs will not award degrees, but instead award a six-month certificate. It is assumed many students will have some background in healthcare and/or IT, and will need to flexibly learn more of what they do not know. Each member institution does not have to offer training for all six job roles, but each consortium as a whole must cover all the roles. The number of institutions must be within the specified range (unless an exemption is given), though each member does not need to train an equal numbers of students. Training must be commence by September 30, 2010.

Funding is for two years. The FOA does not address sustainability, either as requiring it in the plan or its being assessed in evaluation of proposals. It does say that the funding is a one-time opportunity. Up to $1M per consortium can be budgeted for consortium expenses. Up to 8% indirect (F&A) costs will be awarded to the lead institution and any others that have federal F&A agreements. My reading of the FOA is that any institution of higher learning, including a university, that offers HIT training (e.g., OHSU) can be a lead institution. The amount of funding works out to about $3,000-$4,000 per student trained (depending on the region and how much is allocated for consortium expenses).

The second FOA (EP-HIT-10-003) is entitled, Curriculum Development Centers Program. The goal of this FOA is to develop curricula that will be deployed by the community college consortia formed in the other FOA to train HIT professionals in 20 topics the cover the six specific job roles.

This FOA will fund five centers to develop materials in some number (applicants need to specify 7-10 where they have expertise) of areas from a list of 20. They are required to be academic training programs in informatics, HIT, or HIM, and engage both community college educators as well as instructional design experts. One center will also be designated the National Training and Dissemination Center, and additionally carry out training as well as establishing the repository for download of materials.

Each center will be funded up to $1.82M over two years ($910,000 per year), including indirect costs. The National Training and Dissemination Center will receive an additional $900,000 ($450,000 per year), including indirect costs.

Like the other FOA, there is a great amount of prescriptive detail provided. The 20 curricular areas from which to choose include:
  • Introduction to Health Care and Public Health in the U.S
  • The Culture of Health Care
  • Terminology in Health Care and Public Health Settings
  • Introduction to Information and Computer Science
  • History of Health Information Technology in the U.S.
  • Health Management Information Systems
  • Working with Health IT Systems
  • Installation and Maintenance of Health IT systems
  • Networking and Health Information Exchange
  • Fundamentals of Health Workflow Process Analysis & Redesign
  • Configuring EHRs
  • Quality Improvement
  • Public Health IT
  • Special Topics Course on Vendor-Specific Systems
  • Usability and Human Factors
  • Professionalism/Customer Service in the Health Environment
  • Working in Teams
  • Planning, Management and Leadership for Health IT
  • Introduction to Project Management
  • Training and Instructional Design
This whole approach is not without risk, but as I said above, it is a great plan for quickly ramping up the workforce. I do hope that it will allow for professional growth and development for those undertake the training and want to work as professionals in this extremely important component of improving healthcare. I also hope that the process will be evaluated well, so we can make corrections to the process when we find areas it does not work. In any case, I will stop writing now and get back to working on my proposals!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this great overview of the FOAs. In my comment on the ONC blog ( I referenced your Healthcare IT News commentary. I think your analysis today emphasizes my concern that instructors with no experience or expertise teaching health IT will first need to be adequately trained in order for this program to be a success.
    All that being said, I am confident that our educational and academic institutions will rise to the challenge, band together, make adjustments where necessary, and usher in the development of a new workforce to provide the manpower necessary for health IT adoption around the country.