Hospitals and clinicians need tax credits to hire, train health information systems professionals, American Health Information Management Association tells Congress.
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The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) has proposed a tax incentive program that it believes would create 40,000 new jobs for health information management (HIM) professionals.
Under this proposal--which AHIMA wants to see included in a Congressional job creation bill--employers would receive a tax credit if they helped train a HIM worker with a baccalaureate or higher college degree to perform the functions required to install and operate health information systems. These employers would encompass hospitals, physician groups, and insurance companies that employ HIM professionals in their coding departments, Craig May, director of public relations for AHIMA, told InformationWeek Healthcare.
AHIMA would provide free Web-based courses to assist the employers with on-the-job training. It would also administer a Health IT (HIT) Pro competency exam that would confirm that the HIM worker's skills and experience were adequate to "satisfy the nation's need for health IT," according to a press release. HIM professionals with experience in the field could take the exam in lieu of training.
The employers would not necessarily have to hire the IT workers to get the government incentives. But May pointed out, "The idea is to bridge the gap between their [university] credentialing and what they need to know to begin providing productive work. So if you've made that investment in an individual, why would you not hire the individual?"
The Obama administration has said that the country needs up to 50,000 additional HIM workers to implement its national electronic health record initiative. A federally funded training program for HIM workers aims to have community colleges turn out 10,500 graduates annually by 2012. But aside from the inadequacy of this output, some healthcare executives say that the graduates of these programs have insufficient training and background for the positions that they seek to fill.
AHIMA would approach this problem by requiring applicants to have bachelor's or master's degrees in HIM to be eligible for its on-the-job training program. "Some of the community college training programs are quite phenomenal," May commented. "But right now, HIM is evolving to a point where we need baccalaureate and master-degree professionals to keep up with advancing technology."
That introduces another issue: U.S. colleges and universities offer only 54 baccalaureate and seven masters programs in HIM. AHIMA's proposal would provide federal incentives to institutions that offer such educational programs.
"We're hoping that through this initiative, we'll spark an increase in the availability of these programs," said May. However, he admitted it might take several years to train 40,000 more HIM professionals.
Meanwhile, AHIMA is testing its initiative in a demonstration that it is conducting with North Shore Medical Labs, based in Williston, N.Y., and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Department of Minority Health. Together, they will bring health IT to 100 small-practice physicians in underserved communities in Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. HHS is identifying the communities; North Shore will supply EHR software through its Nortec subsidiary; and AHIMA will recruit the physicians and provide free training.
While May could not estimate the cost of AHIMA's proposal, he said there is a strong case for including it in any job-creating legislation that Congress considers. "These are jobs that are sustainable, that are career-track, that are not going to cross the ocean. These are jobs that will be necessary for healthcare reform and that pay a dividend to society. So if you're going to try to create jobs, what more advantageous jobs could you create than those in the HIM industry?"
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