HIT workforce training programs: A roundup of successes and complaints

Though funding ended Sept. 30 for the ONC Health IT Workforce Training Programs, the universities and community colleges involved are continuing training, according to an evaluation by the National Opinion Research Center and the University of Chicago. 

The training provided under the HITECH Act exceeded projections--though employers' needs were even greater. The program provided $118 million in funding for four programs aimed at training 51,000 people to develop, implement, and evaluate health IT during the government push to go digital.

The programs were as follows:

  • University-Based Training programs: These can boast 1,704 graduates of advanced programs in health IT, 89 percent of whom report being employed.
  • Community College Consortia: Graduated 19,733 people as of Sept. 30, exceeding the target of 10,500 trained.
  • Curriculum Development Centers: 44,078 unique users created accounts on the dissemination site and downloaded more than 187,683 files. Critics in the NORC report cited consistency problems from allowing community colleges a "buffet" approach to what they teach and multiple universities creating materials.
  • Competency Examination Program: Competency exams for trainees in the six community college work force roles. A total of 9,524 exams were delivered, shy of the target of 10,000. The program has transitioned to become the Certified Healthcare Technology Specialist (CHTS) overseen by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

The HIT workforce increased by more than 60,000 between 2008 and 2011, yet 434,000 health IT job postings were found between 2007 and 2011, writes William Hersh, M.D., professor and chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University at Health IT Buzz Blog. Healthcare CIOs were still worried that staffing shortages would delay projects.

There were some problems, Hersh notes, such as the rapid ramp-up of the program, difficulty in getting the word out to employers and the mismatch between employers' desire to hire experienced health IT pros when the programs' graduates had little experience.

Many of the community college students, however, already were employed in the field and cited the training for helping them gain promotions, raises and more advanced positions, notes Chitra Mohla, director of the Community College Workforce Program, in a second Health IT Buzz post.

At the HIMSS conference last month, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo spoke of the need to continue to develop the HIT workforce.

Respondents to the HIMSS annual leadership survey in recent years have cited lack of staff as the most significant barrier to IT implementation.

To learn more:
- read Hersh's post
- find the NORC report (.pdf)
- check out Mohla's article

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