Healthcare IT Education Grants and the Workforce Shortage

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.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

9 Comments

  • Emily,

    I am already signed up as a PF consultant. I am currently squeezing “learning PF” together with learning HIT. In the software side of the HIT business, I’ve already identified PF as one of my best offerings (that is if I have a client, and that will be after I graduate). There are pros and cons with PF but that is another topic. So, you see, I am trying to line up the plan steps; software selection is one of the plans.

    The other step in the plan is to find sources of clients. I am wary that this will be a bottleneck. Maybe I could search the online yellow pages and do a phone solicitation. Or maybe, I can use what RECs know since all clinics are signing up with them for Meaningful Use (if they have the system that allows HIT people to access the Meaningful Use registrants and clinic demographics). And lastly, maybe I partner with somebody and start a quasi-private list for clinics wanting MU that is open to all HIT professionals (sort of a craigslist or Angie’s list).

    So, in my plan we have the:
    1. HIT implementor – the HIT graduate
    2. the MU client – ??
    3. the preferred software – I choose PF.

    Am I missing something ??

    Jojo Pornebo

  • If you are going to join a consult agency you might want to ask them regarding possible Epic certification/training or Cerner certification/training.

    Right now there is a lot of demand for EMR knowledge related to these two companies as they are definitely the market leader.

  • Yes, those are the “holy grails” of EMR. I’m pretty sure I’ll start with SCOs (small clinic offices) so I want to go free (and effective) for now (or something close to that). But, in the end, those are the goal. TNX.

    JP

  • Gaining as much experience in popular medical practice EMR solutions would be my suggestion. We look to hire people who have experience in one or more of the top EMR software solutions.

    The most common solutions we see in practices are Sage, eClinicalWorks, Allscripts, NextGen, and Greenway. Obtain as much knowledge or experience as you can by offering to intern at an HIT company or attend training classes for specific software solutions if you can.

  • Community Health Centers (CHC) generally have little or no IT expertise in house. They often belong to coalitions w/ other similar clinics and these may be a good place to forge new relationships. In general these organizations are not-for-profit and do not pay market, but helping fulfill their mission can be rewarding and provide tangible experience.

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