Earlier this year I had the good fortune (and the support of my employer) to join the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), an organization that offers interest groups for every possible IT niche you can think of. I’ve attended a few of their health society events, and at every one I’m confronted with statistics and anecdotes surrounding the dearth of qualified healthcare IT professionals in the city and surrounding areas. Much attention at these events is also given to the fact that these professionals are needed now more than ever to help smaller physician practices and larger healthcare systems demonstrate Meaningful Use and achieve associated electronic medical record (EMR) adoption goals.
I’ve commented before on the disconnect between the increasing number of healthcare IT educational opportunities being created by the government and vendors’ willingness (or unwillingness, as the case may be) to hire fresh grads. EJ Fechenda of HIMSS JobMine posed a question related to this conundrum better than I ever could have: “With federal deadlines looming, healthcare organizations need to get moving and there are a lot of job seekers out there ready for the challenge. Are there organizations or companies willing to extend opportunities to these candidates? Is there a training or job-shadowing program that can be used as a best practice for other organizations to implement? Who are the champions already doing this or willing to lead the charge?”
I may have found a champion in Rich Wicker, HIMS Director at Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Wicker is also an adjunct professor at two HITECH-affiliated community colleges, teaching students who already have strong backgrounds in healthcare or IT the basics of process, analysis, redesign, installation and ongoing maintenance to prepare them for second careers in physician office EMR implementations.
He certainly seems to have a passion for the subject. “I’m devoted to the EMR,” he told me during a recent phone interview. “That’s why I started teaching, really, because I want to see that [adoption] happen so badly.”
He tells me his students are guardedly optimistic about their future job opportunities, which he believes will surge this summer alongside an expected increase in physician adoption of EMRs – six months before the deadline to qualify for Meaningful Use incentives.
As we discussed the state of the HIT job market, we both wondered if what type of organization might have a greater role to play in ensuring that graduate from programs like Wicker’s find jobs.
“We had to really battle our way to get one [software] copy from one EMR vendor,” he explains. “I wish they were more amenable to providing educational software/packages like Apple does throughout all their PCs. I know a few different schools have joined with a vendor. One place I know of is showing Vista, another is showing eClinicalWorks, and another partnered with a local hospital that happens to use Sage.
“I have a relatively limited view, but from what I can see, the vendors are not really engaged with the HITECH student development program. I think they’d probably rather do it themselves.”
“Here’s an idea that I came up with,” he adds. “I’ll throw out the RECs (Regional Extension Centers). That’s another entity that’s funded – it’s kind of their job to get the docs to convert. If they could partner with the colleges and the graduates to possibly divert some of their funding to supplementing the graduates’ income while they worked at a physician practice … So the physician, let’s say, for $5 an hour, they could hire a qualified, certified person. These people are pretty good, too. They know what it is to work. They’ve probably worked 10 or 20 years already, either in IT or in healthcare. So they’re mature employees and highly motivated. They would be great to go in and do a 6-month installation. I think it would be great for the physician if, for $5 an hour, you get somebody that would probably cost you $30 an hour somewhere else.
“Let’s say the student can get another $10 an hour supplemented from the REC or somehow through the government. So they get $15 an hour to go in there … they get four or five months of experience doing an installation and then the physician can make a decision … maybe they ultimately hire the person. That’s just a crazy idea that I had that seemed like the pieces are out there that kind of potentially could work. I sent it into the ONC a couple of days ago.”
Could the RECs have a bigger role to play in ensuring that HITECH graduates gain on-the-job experience and employment? I’d love to hear from any readers out there who may work for or with RECs . Is Wicker’s idea doable? Have we found our champion?