Can Paraprofessionals Solve The Health IT Talent Shortage?

Posted on April 23, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As anyone reading this blog knows, there’s not enough HIT specialists available to  manage  the massive wave of EMR implementations under way.  In fact, many CIOs fear that they won’t be able to find enough EMR help to get stimulus funding, according to a CHIME survey from late last year.

More than 70 percent CIOs responding to the survey said that they might not be able to bring enough staff on board to get HITECH incentives, CHIME reports.  Many are turning to third-party consultants to get the job done, but as we all know, outsourcing the implementation of a mission-critical system like an EMR comes with problems of its own.

So, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to reduce the need for scarce health IT veterans and fob off at least some of the work on paraprofessionals?  It seems that at least one organization has exactly that in mind.

A group of impressive HIT experts, led by Steven Lazarus of the Boundary Information Group, have come together to offer a series of certification courses which train students to handle some EMR management functions.   The certifications include:

*  Certified Professional in Electronic Health Records (CPEHR)

*  Certified Professional in Health Information Technology (CPHIT)

Certified Professional in Health Information Exchange (CPHIE)

The organization, known simply as Health IT Certification, has already partnered with three Regional Extension Centers. It’s also working with several trade organizations, including the MGMA and WEDI.

The group frankly acknowledges that these certifications are no substitute for in-depth health IT expertise, but argues that people who meet its certification requirements can be a big help nonetheless.

My guess is that such paraprofessionals would be especially attractive to small medical practices, which seldom — if ever — have a traditional IT expert on staff and can ill-afford high-end EMR consulting.

However, I don’t know if they’d make a dent in a hospital or health system’s staffing problems, as I doubt that even the best-informed paraprofessional could handle the implementation of high-end enterprise EMR systems.

That being said, it’s hard to tell what will and won’t work as the EMR juggernaut descends upon the industry.  Maybe these certified folks — call them HIT extenders? — can make a real impact.  What do you think?