Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ONC Health IT Curriculum: Funding Ends, Materials Remain Available

The end of March, 2013 will mark a major change to a project to which I have devoted a great deal of my professional life over the last few years, which is the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC Health IT Curriculum project. This project began in April, 2010, when five universities were awarded funding to each produce four out of a total of 20 "components" (comparable to courses) for the curricular materials whose primary audience would be the ONC Community College Consortia, although we would later expand this to all of higher education providing educational programs in informatics and health IT. Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) was awarded additional funding to serve as the National Training and Dissemination (NTDC), tasked with developing mechanisms for disseminating the curricular materials, providing technical support, and training community college faculty in their use.

First things first for those who may have worries: The curricular materials will continue to be available on the NTDC Web site, which I plan to maintain with funding from my own department through the end of 2013. In the meantime, ONC is also developing a transition plan to house the materials on their Web site. The materials have also shown up in various other places, as is allowed under the Creative Commons license that we adopted, and of course anyone is free to download and use them under the terms of that license. The best description of this third and final version of the curriculum is in a previous blog posting of mine, with some additional notes (mainly on the new version of the VistA for Education system) provided in another posting.

A more serious challenge for the ONC Health IT Curriculum is how to maintain and update the materials going forward. After the grant funding ends this month, our support for the materials will end. This not only means the end of the online support we have provided, but also that no errors or other problems will be fixed when drawn to our attention. Of course, this does mean that others cannot update and improve their own copies of the materials (since we provide all source materials for download); it is just that the NTDC will no longer be able to correct problems and upload fixes to the source content.

Another problem is that as of now, there is no definitive plan for updating of the materials, which means they will gradually become out of date over time. (We did manage to get them updated for Stage 2 of meaningful use but have not been able to update the privacy and security materials for the revisions to HIPAA released in January, 2013.)

Nonetheless, the materials will still be valuable in that they provide a foundation for educators and others who can then update them as they adapt them for their own purposes. In essence, this is the main contribution of the project, which is to provide a higher foundation from which many who teach informatics and health IT can draw. The primary audience for this project always has been educators, and the materials, even if they have some "bugs" or become somewhat out of date, will still provide a base upon which others can build. The materials may also be able to help educational institutions stand up new programs (or enhance existing ones) more easily.

It may well be that there will be resources in the future to allow updating and even expansion of the materials. But for now, educators and everyone else will have plenty to work with, and I am confident that motivated teachers and others will be able to make effective use of the materials.

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