Health IT Techs Get Another Certification Program

CompTIA offers industry-recognized credential that validates EHR installation and maintenance skills learned in federally funded community college courses.
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CompTIA, a computer industry trade association based in Downers Grove, Ill., is offering a new professional credential to health IT technicians who install and maintain electronic health records systems.

Community colleges that have federally funded HIT training programs already provide a certificate of completion, but "the students are looking for an industry-recognized credential," said Gretchen Koch, senior director of workforce development for CompTIA. She cited conversations with directors of community college consortia that are running the training programs.

The other reason why CompTIA developed its new Healthcare IT Technician Certificate, she said, is that "value-added resellers" (VARs) and other technical support firms that belong to the trade association have been receiving a lot of requests from physician practices to help them install EHR systems.

"Most of the VARs knew they had the technical expertise to go in and get these applications up and running, but they needed the additional healthcare knowledge and skill sets," Koch explained.

Healthcare organizations that are interviewing candidates for health IT jobs may also welcome a credential like CompTIA's certificate, she added.

The Healthcare IT Technician Certificate is a vendor- and technology-neutral credential that validates the operational, regulatory, and security knowledge necessary to provide hardware and software support in healthcare environments where EHRs are used. The credential is most applicable to students seeking positions as implementation specialists and technical/software support specialists--two of the six roles for which the community college training is supposed to prepare students.

The CompTIA exam for the Healthcare IT Technician Certificate covers the areas of regulatory requirements, organizational behavior, IT operations, medical business operations, and security.

The exam would normally be taken after graduation from a community college course, and CompTIA also recommends that applicants obtain its A+ certificate before sitting for the exam. The A+ credential is designed for people who want to be an IT technician in any field. The coursework, which can take anywhere from two weeks to a semester, includes basic training in computer hardware, software, networking, security, customer relations, and help desk skills.

Koch noted that Norma Morganti, executive director of the Midwest Community College Health Information Technology Consortium, advises students who want to be implementation or technical support specialists to take the CompTIA A+ course before attending one of her colleges' training sessions.

Observing that the training programs funded by the government last for only six months, Koch said, "Many people felt that was a really short time period to train someone to be a full technician who's able to implement an EHR system and/or to maintain that system over time."

The Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC), which administers the training grants, says the 82 colleges involved in the program had graduated 1,274 students as of May 31, 2011.

The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) offers online courses in conjunction with nine universities for clinicians who want to learn about healthcare informatics. About 2,000 people have graduated from these courses since 2005, according to AMIA.

The government has projected that 50,000 additional health IT professionals will be required over the next few years to help implement EHRs in physician offices.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)