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November 14, 2012 Readers Write 2 Comments

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Note: the views and opinions expressed are those of the authors personally and are not necessarily representative of their current or former employers.

Formal HIT Education
By Deborah Kohn

11-14-2012 6-59-16 PM

I read with interest HIStalk’s news regarding Georgia Tech’s free online health informatics class in the cloud and Mr.HIStalk’s comment, "This looks really good, especially for folks who don’t have a lot of formal healthcare IT education on their resume."

This led me to research four-year baccalaureate degree programs in health information technology (HIT), where I expected students in such programs to earn a BS degree, a Health Information Technologist title, and, perhaps be ready to sit for a rigorous certification exam.

No such programs exist in US colleges and universities – online, on-campus, or combination – as far as I know, except perhaps one at Miami (Ohio) University’s regional campuses. (note: I am not referring to four-year baccalaureate degree programs in health information management or HIM, which are complementary to but different from four-year baccalaureate degree programs in HIT.)

Largely due to 2009 ARRA/HITECH dollars (workforce training), many two-year, community college-based HIT programs exist (before the dollars run out), where students earn an AA degree (or similar), a Health Information Technician title, and are ready to sit for the Department of Health and Human Resources’ HITPro exam. (A certification is not conferred upon successfully passing the HITPro exam.) Unfortunately, contrary to expectations and because of lack of experience, most of these students cannot find jobs.

Many excellent one-to-two-year, post-baccalaureate degree programs exist in health informatics (e.g., Georgia Tech), whereby graduate students (typically clinical) earn either a MS degree or similar or a certificate, allowing the student to officially wear the Health Informaticist title (Nurse Informaticist, MD Informaticist, etc.).

As a college undergrad, I earned a BS degree in medical record science (today, health information management). My program in medical record administration was part of the university’s Allied Health Professionals Division. General Arts and Sciences Division requirements (English composition, sociology, chemistry, biology, etc.) plus anatomy and physiology consumed our freshman and sophomore years. Many of our junior and senior year courses were shared with the Allied Health Professionals Division’s undergrad nurses, pharmacists, lab technologists, dieticians, etc. The remaining courses were specific to HIM (ICD coding, records management, etc.). All Allied Health Professionals Division students experienced a minimum of four months practice in a hospital in the nursing, lab, pharmacy, dietary, and medical records departments.  

I graduated the university with a Medical Record Administrator title and was prepared to sit for a rigorous exam that, upon passing, allowed me to be certified as a Registered Record Administrator (today, Registered Health Information Administrator – RHIA). Similarly, my fellow student nurses, pharmacists, lab technologists, dieticians,etc., became RNs, RPhs, RDs, etc.  In general, we went directly into good-paying jobs as entry-level — but at least semi-experienced — healthcare professionals.

As a graduate student, I had few options except to pursue a masters degree in Health Services and Hospital Administration (or similar), which I do not regret. However, today, those with BS degrees in the healthcare professions can pursue advanced degrees in health informatics, highlighting advanced skills, knowledge, and experience in healthcare and in IT. 

Consequently, I am proposing that four-year colleges and universities, working with or without existing two-year college HIT programs promoting Health Information Technicians, consider offering sorely-needed, workforce HIT programs promoting Health Information Technologists (like lab technologists). Subsequently, graduating students could sit for certification exams and become registered. (This is a subject for another article that would address those associations that would be able and willing to manage the testing.)  

These healthcare information technologist programs would allow the BS-degreed, graduating Health Information Technologist (registered or not) to gain required experience in the HIT industry and, if interested, to choose an HIT advancement and graduate path in health informatics.

In addition, I propose that these four-year, baccalaureate degree programs be incorporated into universities’ existing four-year, Allied Health Professional Divisions. Unfortunately, I learned from one public university with such a division that it is difficult to get the right parties to agree to offer new degree programs at the undergraduate level. I learned from one private university with such a division that undergraduate programs do not generate enough revenue to justify adding new programs, and only post-graduate programs do. Perhaps an accredited online university that is willing to keep the cost reasonable and can quickly establish a program also should be proposed, although program quality might be a concern.

Who or what entity is willing to take me up on my proposal? 

Deborah Kohn is the principal of Dak Systems Consulting of San Mateo, CA.

Value of Meaningful Use Funds Debated at IHT2 Conference
By James Harris

11-14-2012 6-53-38 PM

“History will not look positively on how the meaningful use funds were spent,” said Dale Sanders, senior vice president, Healthcare Quality Catalyst, at a November 7 IHT2 Conference in Los Angeles.

The panel was discussing the current status of healthcare analytics. Several panelists, including Sanders, said the $30 billion federal program had erred by not including more incentives for providers to use analytics.

Sanders said a “substantial” proportion of the EHR Meaningful Use fund had gone to large hospitals which had already purchased or planned to purchase an EHR system. “The program has served to further entrench Epic and Cerner” as the dominant systems in the hospital industry, Sanders said. This is unfortunate because neither company has shown a willingness to “opening their API” to outside vendors with analytic programs.

All of the panelists agreed that analytic programs held significant potential to reduce both clinical and administrative costs in hospitals.

According to Steve Margolis, MD, MBA, chief medical informatics officer of Adventist Health Systems, the newest types of analytic programs will offer “visual discovery tools,” which he described as being like Amazon’s system of suggesting additional purchase items based upon the consumer’s buying habits.

Margolis said in the future analytic programs will give “each individual provider, whether she’s in the ER, kitchen, or NICU, will get her own individual ‘dashboard.’” This dashboard would contain specific KPIs for the individual position to help in decision making.

Sanders noted that the most significant barrier to widespread adoption of analytics was the current economic model in healthcare. “Until we move to paying for quality, not quantity,” there is little incentive for hospitals to use analytics.

He added that the “I” in CIO should stand for “analytics.” Margolis countered that many CIOs felt the “I” stood for “insecure.”

In the conference’s opening keynote speech, Brent James MD, chief quality officer and executive director of  Institute for Health Care Delivery Research of Intermountain Healthcare, noted the vast amount of waste in the US healthcare system.

James said $2.83 trillion was spent on healthcare in one recent year and about 50 percent, or some $1.5 trillion, was “wasted.”

He said studies showed that 32 percent of all clinical care was “inappropriate,” meaning unnecessary or without proven clinical benefit.

James said “nobody in healthcare believes we will not be seeing major payments cuts” in the future. He urged healthcare executives to study the principles of W. Edward Deming, the famed engineer and management theoretician.

James said the old advice to American manufacturers, “Do Deming or Die,” takes on new meaning in US healthcare. He said the retail and auto industries have shown that “quality drives down costs.”

James Harris is president of Westside Public Relations.

It Takes One Bad Apple…
By Fernando Martinez, PhD, FHIMSS

11-14-2012 6-40-38 PM

I recently hosted an information assurance webinar that focused on security and audit and control functions that are frequently overlooked by healthcare organizations. In order to establish the appropriate context for the discussion, I began by reviewing notable trends and statistics regarding experiences around data security in the industry.

For example, in recent years, almost 21 million patient records have been implicated in reported breaches of electronic protected health information (ePHI). The statistics included a brief review of civil and criminal penalties for HIPAA-related violations which apply to covered entities and business associates alike.

Although the primary industry and regulatory focus has been on covered entities such as providers and healthcare organizations, compliance expectations have also matured and expanded to now include business associates. While business associate agreements are by design typically an affirmation that the business associate agrees to comply with some degree of security and related controls, not until recently have audits been directed specifically to business associates. The expectation is that the business associate has the same level of accountability as the covered entity when it comes to safeguarding ePHI.

Although it seems that some of the impetus for the heightened focus on business associates is related to consumer complaints about HIPAA violations or perceived violations, it is safe to conclude that regulators recognize the need to audit business associates simply because a relationship exists with one or more covered entities. Business associates are expected to conform to the same level of HIPAA compliance as covered entities where applicable, which in turn suggests that a properly designed, executed, and monitored management program must be in place by the business associate.

At the annual NIST/OCR conference held in June 2012, several presentations reinforced the point that a dedicated focus is going to be directed toward business associates. Evidence of this heightened focus is demonstrated in a Wall Street Journal article which appeared late July 2012. A complaint was initiated by the Attorney General of Minnesota directed at a service provider that was implicated in a security breach associated with patients from two local hospitals. The article reported that without admitting to any of the allegations, the service provider agreed to settle out of court. The terms of the settlement speak to the significant risk of not adequately managing compliance with security and privacy standards.

The settlement included the following terms:

  1. The provider will pay $2.5 million to the state of Minnesota as part of a restitution fund to compensate patients
  2. The provider must cease operations within Minnesota for a two-year period (the company voluntarily decided to cease operations in the state)
  3. If the provider wants to do business within Minnesota after the two-year exclusion period, it must first obtain the consent of the state’s Attorney General

The fallout from the incident also resulted in the resignations of several of the provider’s executives, the loss of an estimated $20-$25 million in projected annual revenue, and a 56 percent drop in the stock price of the company.

Fernando Martinez, PhD, FHIMSS is national practice director, enterprise information assurance at Beacon Partners of Weymouth, MA.

The Seven Most Important Soft Skills for Healthcare IT Consultants
By Frank Myeroff

11-14-2012 6-47-34 PM

Google “soft skills” and you’ll find that they are defined as the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.

While soft skills are a fairly new emphasis in healthcare IT, today’s job candidates and project consultants are either landing or losing positions based on them. Healthcare IT hiring managers regularly ask me about our consultants’ soft skills and consider them as important as their occupational and technological skills.

Therefore, in the event you are interviewing people or even currently seeking a new healthcare IT position yourself, you will need to understand or even demonstrate that there are a number of the soft skills required to be successful on the job. So my best advice to you — get in touch with your soft side and hone these skills quickly!

With that in mind, here are seven top soft skills considered vital for healthcare IT consultants:

  1. Excellent communication skills. Emphasis is being placed on IT professionals who are not only articulate, but who are also active listeners and can communicate with any audience. Good communicators are able to build bridges with colleagues, customers, and vendors.
  2. Strong work ethic. Organizations benefit greatly when their people are reliable, have initiative, work hard, and are diligent. Workers exhibiting a good work ethic are usually selected for more responsibility and promotions.
  3. Positive work attitude. Wanting to do a good job and willing to work extra hours is highly valued. In general, a person having a positive work attitude is more productive and is always thinking how to make things easier and more enjoyable. Plus a positive attitude is catchy.
  4. Problem-solving skills. Today’s businesses want IT professionals who can adapt to new situations and demonstrate that they can creatively solve problems when they arise. To be considered for a management or leadership role, problem-solving skills are a must.
  5. Acting as a team player. Clearly a worker who knows how to cooperate with others is an asset. They understand the importance of everyone being on the same page in order to achieve organizational goals.
  6. Dealing with difficult personalities. Businesses want people who are capable of handling all types of difficult people and situations. Healthcare IT workers who succeed in this area are in great demand.
  7. Flexibility and adaptability. The business and IT climates change quickly. Job descriptions are becoming more fluid. Therefore, professionals who are able to adapt to changing environments and take on new duties are becoming more valued in the workplace. Those who rely on technical skills alone limit how much they can contribute.

The importance of soft skills in a healthcare IT environment cannot be stressed enough. Healthcare organizations link them to job performance and career success. Having the right soft skills mean the difference between people who can do the job and those who can actually get the job done.

Frank Myeroff is managing partner of Direct Consulting Associates of Solon, OH.

My View from the Other Side
By Vendor Nurse

I have worked in and around the vendor world for about 13 years now. But last month was my first experience as a patient in a practice just going live on an EMR (Greenway). In one day, I experienced two doctor visits. Both had recently adopted an EHR.

The first was a dermatologist using Greenway. My appointment was at 1:00 p.m. I arrived a bit early, was asked to fill out several pages of forms, including patient registration forms, PMH, ROS, etc. I was called back to the front desk window four times to answer questions about race and ethnicity, insurance, and I forget what else.

My nurse (MA, really) finally took me back to the exam room at 1:35 p.m. and started to ask me all the questions I had just filled out. When I said, "It’s all on the forms," she said, "I know, but I have to ask you anyway." As she typed into the laptop, she sat at a diagonal but did not face me or make much eye contact and seemed more interested in entering the documentation than me. Of course, I get that, but geez it didn’t feel good.

The second appointment was with my PCP for URI symptoms. They are a major academic healthcare center and are going live on Epic (who isn’t?)…their third EMR! This doc was a little more fluent with an EMR, but sat with her back to me the whole time. She handed me a patient care summary and e-prescribed my medications, but forgot to print the referral for a mammogram.

Somewhere during that visit I was given information about the patient portal, which I had been waiting for a long time. As it happened, I had a couple of questions come up within the week and absolutely loved being able to send a message and get a response within an hour or two. This rocks! No more automated phone messages that go on so long I can’t even remember why or who I called.

Anyway, just thought I’d share my personal experience with EHRs. I have to say it will help me as I work with other physicians going live on their EHR.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. re: formal HIT education

    I mostly agree with Deborah, but here’s the rub:

    1.) The industry suffers from pigeon-holing professionals into vendor-centric roles (and recruiters wonder why they can never find anyone?)

    2.) HIT is as much technology as it is clinical. The clinical pieces are key, but the technology aspects are equally if not more difficult to execute. How many true clinicians do you know that can code in their sleep?

    3.) Clinicians, business decision makers, and IT folks don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, which makes for a hard sandbox to play in.

    I agree that more undergraduate programs at traditional universities need to evolve. As one example, my alma mater recently merged their schools of library science, informatics, and computer science all into one school. Surely this trend will continue in the evolving landscape.

    On another note, I do believe that the masters level health informatics programs (yes, even the online ones) are worth their weight in gold. I graduated with my masters in health informatics last spring and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. While a majority of my classmates are clinicians and physicians by trade, there are other peers who come from diversified backgrounds which brings unique experiences to the classroom. The online learning environment has grown (at my grad school admissions have grown 400%) and is here to stay. We live in an increasingly smaller world, where geography plays a smaller role and timely, reliable information trumps all.

    HI/HIT has been around for decades but it is always changing; it’s no different from an educational standpoint.

    -Digital Bean Counter

  2. Thanks, Digital Bean Counter, for your thoughtful response.

    #1- True. Unfortunately that won’t change based on what I am proposing, and it’s probably the subject of another discussion.

    #2- Indeed, a 4 year curriculum (upon which I did not elaborate) would include such. For example, the first 2 years of such a program would include the same general content as all 4 year nurses, pharmacists, lab techs, dietitians, engineers, computer techs, etc. – getting everyone up to speed on general college requirements as well as the base clinical (anatomy, physiology, biostats, etc.) and computer science (programming, networks, hardware, etc.) requirements. The remaining 2 years would focus on more advanced clinical and computer science courses as well as management and, perhaps, courses such as quantitative analysis – getting a future Health Information Technologist up to speed to take on a practicum at a healthcare organization and ready to take on a job upon graduation.

    #3- True. Unfortunately that hasn’t changed over the last 40 years that I have been in this business. Again, it’s the subject of another discussion.

    Re: masters level health informatics programs (yes, even the online ones) are worth their weight in gold- Absolutely true! As I wrote, I wish that had been offered when I was pursuing my masters degree. To reiterate, I believe there is a need for the 2 year college programs as Health Information TECHNICIANS (along the lines of the ARRA/HITECH Workforce Training program), the 4 year college programs as Health Information TECHNOLOGISTS. and the post-grad programs as Health INFORMATICISTS; the latter consisting of practicing clinicians and other, diversified practitioners (e.g., finance, IT) who bring “unique experiences to the classroom.”

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