This article appears in the October 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Industrywide efforts to provide more qualified IT staff may yield improvements, but that won’t solve the problem overnight, say those familiar with the many programs now sprouting up in response to government funding.
“We’re training people as fast as we can,” says Dean F. Sittig, PhD, professor of biomedical informatics at the University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics in Houston. “Right now the need is critical and we’re increasing the supply, but healthcare is increasing demand even faster. It looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
In the meantime, Sittig says, a healthcare provider’s best course of action is to train its own clinicians for IT. The big obstacle there is that providers often don’t want to pay enough. Clinicians are used to generous salaries, he says, and they are not going to settle for less if they move over to IT.
Even finding a school from which to draw IT graduates can be tough, says Jonathan Mack, PhD, RN, NP, director of clinical research and development at the West Wireless Health Institute, a nonprofit research organization in La Jolla, CA, and program coordinator of the new graduate healthcare informatics program at the University of San Diego. The university launched the program because previously there were only two informatics programs in the state, he says.
USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science is now offering a master’s degree in healthcare informatics and a master’s degree in nursing with a specialty in informatics. The master’s in nursing will be the only program of its kind in California. Both will include a 200-hour residency and a capstone project for students to apply what they’ve learned in a clinical setting. The Hahn School also will offer a graduate certificate program in informatics that can be completed in one calendar year.
“The increasing complexity and demands of EMR implementation mean that providers will have to turn to programs like this in the future, either hiring new graduates or sending their own people through for training,” Mack says. “This isn’t something you can learn on the job. Not anymore.”