Health care reform creates new wave of IT workers

As part of the federal government’s push to get hospitals and clinics to adopt electronic medical records, it’s subsidizing IT training classes across the country.

Normandale Community College is one of the schools that received money to teach students how to implement electronic records systems, an onerous task for health care providers, especially in rural Minnesota.

The push for better electronic health records is a worry for outstate health officials because they think the cost burden falls disproportionately on small, rural institutions and because itmeans there’s one more kind of health care professional they need to attract out of the metropolitan area.

Lisette Wright, a former therapist, just completed the Normandale course and is among the first wave of graduates in the nation. “I had no IT background,” she says. “I knew as much as I needed to run a business.” Wright had her own behavioral health clinic for a decade and started a nonprofit to help a town in Africa. “When the flyer came across for the [health IT] program, I thought what a neat fit.”

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In 2010, Normandale received an $800,000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to implement the standardized health IT curriculum. The six-month training costs $500 for students with an IT or health care background. Experts predict a need for an additional 50,000 health IT workers across the country over the next several years.

The Normandale program offers training in “IT technical skills, health care knowledge, systems theory, workflow planning, decision making, and project and time management,” according to the school’s website.

Though working with electronic medical records seems a long way from practicing as a therapist, Wright doesn’t consider the shift radical. “It is and isn’t a u-turn,” she says. “The end game in all of this is improved outcomes and coordination of care for the nation’s health care system. I see this as a way to provide best practices and get quality outcomes. If you have this health IT stuff set up, doctors will be able to access a patient’s record so they can provide better service for that patient.”

Wright says, given her medical background, she’s uniquely qualified to work with providers on workflow issues and integrating electronic records into the practical aspects of providing care.

Some of her fellow Normandale students are looking for paying jobs, Wright says, but others are seeking “practicum placements” or internships, which tend to be unpaid. Wright herself has accepted such an arrangement with a large non-profit.

Though she doesn’t plan to work in rural Minnesota, she says the Normandale graduates could be an especially good resource for outstate health care providers. “I’m sure there will be some of them who would say I need a practicum placement and I wouldn’t mind going up to wherever for a couple of months to help implement electronic health records.”

Normandale is hosting a job fair on June 30th from 7:00-9:00 pm, where potential employers can meet recent HIT graduates.

  • Alex

    The problem isn’t just that there aren’t enough people knowledgable in Health Care IT, but in IT as a whole. With the exception of the worst 6 months in late 2008 – early 2009, The job market for IT professionals has been as healthy as ever. I know that most people think that IT knowledge is beyond them or just “isn’t for me” (a mentality that is common throughout the math & science world) but I really have to encourage anyone that reads this to think of IT skills the same way we think of management or communication skills. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll have to interact with no matter what you do for a living, so you might as well try to get a handle on what it’s all about.