One of the elements deemed essential for "meaningful use" of health information technology (HIT) as legislated in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was an adequately trained professional workforce. Section 3016 tasked the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) will developing programs to meet the needs for this workforce. Of the $2 billion allocated for HIT infrastructure in HITECH (to support the awarding of $36-40 billion in incentives for electronic health record adoption), a total of $118 million was allocated to four programs for workforce development.
The focus of this funding was on short-term training to develop professionals in 12 job roles (described in the Funding Opportunity Announcements and reproduced in an earlier posting in this blog). An analysis by ONC estimated a need for an additional 51,000 personnel above and beyond the existing HIT workforce. The bulk of these individuals fall into six of the job roles that will be trained in community colleges, while the remainder in the other six job roles will be trained in universities.
Three of the programs are focused on the community college training:
Community College Consortia to Educate Health Information Technology Professionals Program - This $70 million program establishes five regional consortia of 70 community colleges that will develop short-term certificate programs to train 10,000 individuals per year in the six community college job roles. Programs are expected to enroll their first students, most of whom will bring backgrounds in healthcare or information technology, by September 30, 2010.
Curriculum Development Centers Program - Because many of the community colleges in the new consortia do not have existing HIT educational programs, $10 million has been allocated to five universities with graduate-level educational programs to collaboratively develop (with community college partners) HIT curriculum for 20 components (topics). Members of the community college consortia will be able to use the components in whole (as courses) or in part. One of the five centers (Oregon Health & Science University) is additionally funded to serve as the National Training and Dissemination Center that will archive and distribute the curricula, train community college faculty in its use, and collect feedback to facilitate its improvement.
Competency Examination for Individuals Completing Non-Degree Training Program - Northern Virginia Community College has been provided a $6 million grant to develop and provide initial administration of a set of HIT competency examinations focused on the six community college job roles.
The fourth program is focused on university-based training:
Program of Assistance for University-Based Training - This $32 million training grant funds education of individuals in the six job roles requiring university-level training at nine universities (or consortia of universities). The funded programs will be able to use the funding as financial aid for students in their existing, mostly graduate-level, programs. The emphasis of the funding will be on short-term certificate programs delivered via distance learning, training about 500 individuals per year. While the focus of the program is on training individuals who will work in health care settings, some of the programs will also be training personnel to work in public health settings.
Taken together, these programs represent an unprecedented investment in HIT education and professional development. My hope is that not only will the individuals trained in these programs find rewarding careers in healthcare and public health organizations, regional extension centers, governments, and companies, but that biomedical/health informatics and related HIT disciplines will achieve more visibility as career options when the funding ends. Similar to information professionals in other industries, the need for these individuals will not go away when the HITECH funding ends.