Unprecedented opportunities

New health information workers now employed through NIC grant

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Unprecedented opportunities

Technology is changing the world and it is definitely changing the health care industry. Anyone who has been to the doctor's office and noticed the doctor taking notes on an iPad or has seen the shelves of colorful paper files disappearing from behind the reception desk knows that the health care field is in a state of transition.

In the fall of 2010, North Idaho College stepped up for a piece of $19.2 billion allocated by the federal government to help the health care field utilize new technologies with the implementation of a new health information technology system across the field of health care. With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, health organizations received incentive funding to help them swap from paper-based record systems to digital record systems. Therefore, the movement to electronic health records created the need for a new kind of specialist, one that could help health care offices implement new electronic medical records systems.

NIC was awarded a $625,000 grant to train health information technology professionals in one-semester courses over a two-year period. Students who completed the programs in Electronic Medical Records Adoption for Healthcare Practices (EMRA) and Electronic Medical Records - Information Technology Support (EMRITS) received post-secondary certificates that qualified them to move directly into the field and begin practicing.

"With the government encouraging the adoption of electronic medical records across the health care spectrum, the opportunities are unprecedented," said Casey Crotty, who enrolled in the NIC EMRA program while working for the Family Health Center in Sandpoint in 2010. Crotty helped that practice improve its current electronic medical records system before moving on to become CEO of the 325-member San Juan IPA in New Mexico and a board member of LCF Research, which is currently working to implement a statewide health information exchange.

"After helping my former practice improve its EMR system, I was able to take that knowledge and apply it to how we can connect various EMR platforms into a regional and statewide health information exchange," Crotty said. "That's how quickly this knowledge can be applied - you can be assisting a single office in one year, and an entire system or state the next."

The grant funding ended in March 2012 as did the EMRA and EMRITS programs at NIC. Since the programs began in 2010, NIC enrolled 327 students in the two-credit programs as well as a noncredit course offered through NIC's Workforce Training Center titled "Health IT in the 21st Century."

Of the students enrolled, 80 percent completed certificates and more than 70 percent of graduates are now are employed in health information technology at health care facilities such as St. Luke's Health Systems, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, Kootenai Health and Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories.

"It was a privilege to be part of the nationwide effort to educate a health IT workforce needed to support and maintain the successful transition from paper to electronic health records," said NIC's Health Information Technology Grant Program Manager and Medical Administrative Programs Coordinator Sue Shibley. "We had an amazing team of talented individuals who contributed to the success of the health IT workforce training program at NIC."

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