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The Role of the ONC in Developing the Health IT Workforce

As the federal government mandated the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), the workforce surrounding the systems in which those records are housed, transmitted and manipulated had to grow.

The government, for its part, has encouraged that growth in the form of contributions from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). The ONC is housed within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is charged with “nationwide efforts to implement and use the most advanced health information technology and electronic exchange of health information,” according to healthit.gov.

Developing the Workforce

As part of its commitment to health IT and electronic health record (EHR) implementation, the ONC developed initiatives and financial policies to help build the workforce to support its broader goals. Perhaps the best example of this is the Health IT Workforce Development Program. Its goal is to train health IT professionals to be ready to help providers implement EHR systems for providers.

The program targeted 12 roles that play a major part in the success of healthcare IT efforts. Six roles required University-Based Training (UBT) that culminated with participants earning master’s degrees, and six required certifications that could be found through a number of outlets including community colleges.

According to Health IT Today, the six UBT offerings are:

1. Clinician/Public Health Leader: This person leads deployment of health IT to improve quality, safety and outcomes of health services. Titles may include Chief Medical Information Officer or Chief Informatics Officer.

2. Health Information Management and Exchange Specialist: Supports the collection, management, exchange and analysis of medical information in electronic form.

3. Health Information Privacy and Security Specialist: This person supports the same efforts as the management and exchange specialist but does so with a focus on maintaining the security and integrity of that information.

4. Research and Development Scientists: Create new models and solutions that advance capabilities of health IT. They also conduct studies concerning the effectiveness of health IT and its impact on healthcare quality.

5. Programmers and Software Engineers: The architects of health IT solutions, these professionals are well trained in both the healthcare and computer information spheres.

6. Health IT Sub-specialist: This person’s training combines healthcare and public health knowledge with knowledge of IT and an expertise in factors that shape health IT policy, such as ethics, business, systems engineering, psychology and policy and planning.

In committing to the development of these roles and training professionals who can fill them, the ONC has awarded millions of dollars’ worth of grants to universities and state agencies to further refine the roles and educate candidates capable of fulfilling them.

Today, direct efforts to grow the workforce continue through investment in curriculum development, population health strategies, cybersecurity initiatives, information standards development and promotion of interoperability efforts.

In recent years, ONC Workforce Development Program efforts have been focused on updating training materials in four areas: population health, care coordination, new care delivery and payment models, and value based/patient centered care.

Additionally, a goal of training 6,000 incumbent healthcare workers across various types of care facilities to use new health information technology has been identified.

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