Healthcare IT Education Grants and the Workforce Shortage

Posted on February 3, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

As many of you know, I get a lot of interesting emails. I generally try to respond to all the emails I get. In many cases, the topics work great for a post on this blog and will extend the discussion beyond the email. This is one such case. The following is an email from a student in one of the HITECH funded healthcare IT education programs and my response to them (published with permission). I’ll be interested to hear what others think about the topics we discussed and if you have any other suggestions for Jojo.

I would like to ask your opinion about what will the graduates of the HIT education grant do after fiishing the 6 month course ?

I am one of these students and I want to freelance after. I have 13 years of IT experience and none of heallthcare (except for my medical appointments where I make my own process workflow analysis). As for me, I have not seen much of IT companies specializing in HIT, in the Northern Sacramento / Placer county region. HIT does not even ring a bell to them, I think. IT companies know about Windows, Office, VMWare, networking, Sharepoint, etc. but not HIT. HIT is an old lurking industry given prestige nowadays because of the HITech act and the $19 billion fund. In 2 more months I will finish the HIT grant school and nowhere to go.

I want to plan ahead. So, I looked at the NorCal REC and I see that they have pay-for registrations for IT providers (IT companies). The IT provider list is supposed to be a match for clinics wanting to implement EMR. I look at these IT provider’s website and I don’t see much information about what they do for HIT. So, how does a REC know that an IT provider knows how to do HIT ? Sure IT companies know the IT part of HIT but not necessarily the H part (for healthcare). This was the same notion I have before I was a HIT student. How hard can HIT be ? Not until I went through the HIT education prgram then I understood that it is not as easy as I thought. HIT is much like specialty field of IT (akin to doctor specializing to a specific field of study).

Therefore, I may have to freelance; capture the smaller niche market in my rural region. Test the waters, apply my learned skills and grow from there. Yes, I would want to satisfy the HITECH goal of building a HIT workforce. But I do not have any information as who is out there (clnics wanting an EMR and HIT providers). My only assumption is that by the end of two years, ONCs calculation is that there will be about 10,500 HIT professionals nationwide. It does not seem to be a lot considering that the California REC is expecting about 10,000 clinic registrants.

The REC is not catering to the upcoming HIT workforce. At least , I have not seen any projects or system that will provide information for a HIT professional that will be graduating this March. I would imagine that a HIT professional should be able to login to the REC website and browse a list of clinic that matches his locality and expertise. Something like that will justify the fund given out for the HIT education.

What do you think?

Jojo Pornebo

My email response was the following:

Hi Jojo,
You bring up some interesting points and thanks for sharing. Are you sure you’re looking in the right places? I don’t know your area of the country that well, but I know a couple IT vendors here in Las Vegas that do a ton of healthcare IT support. Although, you shouldn’t be confused by their website. Many have healthcare as a strong area of focus, but don’t necessarily put it on their website. In fact, in some cases I’ve seen them put the EMR part of their company as a separate company so as not to confuse their existing IT clients.

I’d also suggest you see if there are any VARs in the area you want to work. Many IT companies become VARs for specific EMR vendors and so you could leverage both your IT and healthcare IT skills with a company like this.

Also, I’m not sure it’s best to rely on the RECs. I talked with an IT vendor today who said that he referred people to our local REC for meaningful use and they were suppose to get referrals back for IT support. Yet, he hasn’t gotten any referrals from the REC (yet?). I’d look beyond the RECs which have a limited life anyway if I was in your shoes.

Your training could apply beyond IT companies and the RECs. You could work for an IT vendor itself for example. You can also find full time employment with a specific clinic. Many medium to large size clinics have full time IT support. It’s a great alternative to working for an IT company since you get to know the clinic very well and can effect change over a long period of time. Of course, hospital IT departments also need a lot of skilled healthcare IT employees (and may have the most shortage).

There are lots of options out there. What really matters is you deciding which career path you want to take. Working for an IT company, a hospital, a clinic, an HIT vendor or freelancing for yourself are all viable career paths with their own unique pros and cons.

You could also check out my EMR and EHR job board. It has a number of possible job options so you could see some of the types of healthcare IT related jobs that are out there.

I hope this helps.

Note: Please feel free to share your thoughts for Jojo in the comments. If you have a job for Jojo let me know in the comments or on our contact us page too and I’ll be sure to connect you.