The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of February 2009, often called “The Stimulus Act,” included the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH Act provides incentives to the medical community to achieve the goal established by President Bush that all Americans will have electronic health records by 2014. To this end, approximately $36 billion is being made available over six years for the development and implementation of healthcare information technology.
This enormous stimulus is coming on top of an already large anticipated growth in health care and information technology (IT) employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts employment in computer systems design and related services will grow 45% by 2018; concurrently, health care jobs will grow by 4 million, comprising 26% of all jobs in the U.S. economy. Many of the largest employers in South Carolina are health care companies.
The combined requirement for rapid computerization of health care information and the growth in demand for both health care and IT workers will tremendously increase the need for health information technology professionals. Hospitals, insurance companies, physicians’ practices, state and local governments and the information technology firms that provide health IT products and services will require specialists who understand the technologies associated with patient record systems, insurance claims processing, health care finance and operations systems and the newly developing health care information exchange systems. These systems are highly adapted to the health care setting and must meet a host of state and federal regulations and privacy and security concerns. They also require understanding of the complex dynamics of the changing healthcare environment as well as knowledge of both clinical practice and information technology.
As the U.S. moves toward a more technologically advanced health care system, providers are going to need highly skilled health IT experts to support them in the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records. The U.S. currently lags the implementation of these health IT systems in the Scandinavian countries, Europe, parts of India and other nations.
To help address this growing demand, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has funded the Health IT Workforce Development Program. The goal is to train a new workforce of health IT professionals who will be ready to help providers implement electronic health records to improve health care quality, safety, and cost-effectiveness.
The ONC workforce development programs are intended to provide a jump-start for development of academic programs to prepare high-caliber health information technology professionals interested in supporting the growing and evolving health IT industry. “One of four workforce development programs that the ONC developed under Section 3016 of the Public Health Service Act, as added by the Recovery Act, is designed to rapidly and sustainably increase the availability of individuals qualified to serve in specific health IT professional roles requiring university-level training” (http://HealthIT.HHS.gov/university training). These programs were expected to lead to university issued graduate level certificates or a master’s degree.
Of the 50 largest employers in South Carolina, 22 are health care or health administration companies. These include BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which alone employs 2,500 information technology staff out of a total employment of 11,000. Health information technology is already an important industry segment in our state. BLS data for South Carolina indicate 61,400 health IT jobs in 2009 and employment in this field is expected to grow faster than other industries.
The bottom line: Health information technology workers are currently in demand, and this demand is likely to grow significantly over the next few years.
The issue: Can the healthcare industry and the U.S. education system respond rapidly enough to meet the need, or will the lack of available expertise put a drag on the ability to achieve the national goal that all Americans will have electronic health records by 2014?
About Dr. Elizabeth Regan
Dr. Elizabeth Regan, Program Director, Integrated Information Technology, served as Chair of the Department of Information Systems at Morehead State University, Kentucky, for 11 years, and as Elmer and Donna Smith Endowed Chair in Health Systems for the past 2 years. She also serves as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Northeast Kentucky Regional Health Information Organization. Dr. Regan holds a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut and previously held appointments as an adjunct professor at New York University and the University of Connecticut School of Business. She brings to the classroom 16 years of IT management experience in industry, where she was responsible for many projects involving system design and implementation, end-user computing, knowledge management, and organizational transformation. Research interests are primarily in the area of information technology, innovation, and organizational change. She is the lead author on two college texts and has presented her research in numerous national and international forums and publications.
About Dr. Robert G. Brookshire
Dr. Robert G. Brookshire is a Professor in the Integrated Information Technology Program at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC. He teaches large scale business systems, database management, and web development. He holds an A.B. from the University of Georgia, an M.Ed. from Georgia State University, and a Ph.D. from Emory University. He has taught at North Texas State University, the University of Virginia, and James Madison University. He is the co-author of Using Microcomputers for Research (Sage Publications, 1985), and his articles have appeared in the Journal of Computer Information Systems, BYTE, Social Science Computer Review, Legislative Studies Quarterly, The European Journal of Operational Research, and other journals. He is past president of the Organizational Systems Research Association and editor of the Information Technology, Learning, and Performance Journal from 2001 to 2011.