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Health IT Workforce: Teams in the Trenches

Health Information Technology (HIT) teams can be a lot like armies, made up of leaders, volunteers and recruits. Like armies, HIT teams need the benefits of basic training to build skills and confidence needed to prepare for successful campaigns. This type of basic training – the “Health IT Boot Camp” – prepares the Health IT workforce for the trenches by keeping HIT and business skills current.

It’s also a highly cost effective training solution that has emerged for IT professionals who want to update their skills and knowledge. The boot camp is all about teaching specific skills, tools or technologies over a limited time span in a zero-distraction environment. As a result, it is proven to be one of the most successful training formats for quickly and effectively delivering comprehensive skills to HIT professionals. The content and tight timeframe enables participants to remain competitive, flexible and relevant and creates a sense of teamwork among the various professionals involved.

Why is staff preparation and ongoing HIT training and education such an essential component of successful HIT team building?

Given the disparate nature of the team members and the myriad of specialties, organizations and backgrounds utilizing HIT, it is unlikely they will have a unified sense of the “big HIT picture.” With a comprehensive, cohesive basic training program to provide the foundation of the team’s understanding of HIT, members will naturally tend to approach a project with a broader and more strategic focus. Furthermore, ongoing refresher courses create an important boost of energy and enthusiasm for HIT professionals.

Without proper training, HIT staff are setup for failure.

I have seen the results personally when people are not prepared for the HIT challenges. In one case, a newly-promoted registration supervisor was assigned to represent the patient access department as part of the team implementing a new ED system. When the supervisor attended project team meetings, she clearly felt alienated and intimated by the clinical, technical and HIT terms and concepts discussed. Without a working knowledge of clinical data and workflows, she was unable to contribute to the redesign of the overall ED processes. She was not aware of the implications of her decisions on the organization’s ability to meet “Meaningful Use”. Over time, she did not receive the opportunity to learn or appreciate her own importance in the project’s success and she became disinterested and, ultimately, disengaged, and she was blamed for problems and delays that occurred.

The current HIT workforce shortage is having a negative impact on the ultimate success of health IT implementations. According to Modern Healthcare, hospitals and health systems are facing a tight supply of skilled IT managers and executives. And according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of health information technicians is projected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. I believe that the best strategy for overcoming the challenges is HIT-specific corporate education and professional development programs such as Boot Camps to “grow” the professional HIT workforce from within.

Every department has competent staff members who would appreciate the opportunity to be a part of a strategic HIT initiative, and with the proper preparatory education, they can flourish. HIT-specific corporate education is also an excellent way to motivate and retain staff, and encourage the entire organization to support the HIT teams. And because building and growing HIT teams from within reduces the “us-and-them” mentality when teams are comprised of new hires and consultants, the Boot Camp trench becomes a place for HIT team members to hone their skills, rather than dodge bullets.