With the U.S. Labor Department predicting a shortage of 51,000 qualified healthcare IT professionals over the next five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week announced $80 million in grants for new workforce training programs.
The bulk of the funding -- $70 million -- is being set aside for community college training programs, while the remaining $10 million will be used to develop educational materials to support the programs.
The health IT workforce training grants were authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Obama in February.
The training programs will address the skills and competencies needed to fill six health IT workforce roles that HHS has identified as critical as thousands of healthcare providers implement e-health record systems.
The six healthcare IT workforce roles were identified by a panel of technical experts, educators, and industry representatives convened by the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT.
These health IT workforce roles are: practice workflow and information management redesign specialists; clinician/practitioner consultants; implementation support specialists; implementation managers; technical/software support staff; and trainers.
HHS expects that the new training programs can be completed by individuals in six months or less, depending on their previous experience and backgrounds. Colleges participating in the programs are expected to offer their training no later than Sept. 30, 2010.
Trained individuals are expected to help fill positions needed for other ARRA-related initiatives, including regional extension centers offering regional support to healthcare providers adopting health IT, as well as state health information exchange programs.
HHS said the academic programs that are established using these grants "will be flexibly implemented to provide each trainee with the knowledge, skills, and competencies that he/she does not already possess and that are required for a particular role."
For example, "a person entering the program with a healthcare background would concentrate on obtaining IT skills and workflow redesign capabilities rather than on content knowledge related to healthcare, which they already have."
HHS expects that by the end of the two-year project period, collectively all of the community colleges participating in the program will have established training programs with the capacity to train at least 10,500 students annually to be part of the health IT workforce.
The grants will provide funding for cooperative agreements with five regional consortia representing a total of approximately 70 community colleges that will be selected. Priority for selection in the programs will be given to community colleges that align with the regional extension centers being set up to support healthcare providers adopting e-health systems.
HHS said the health IT workforce training offered by the colleges should be "non-degree" programs, however institutional certification of completion may be awarded.
Each participating community college must also have plans to connect students completing these training programs with job opportunities.