This article was written by Joe Wivoda, CIO of the National Rural Health Resource Center/Rural Health Innovations, for the September 2016 edition of “Networking News.” The Network Technical Assistance Project is funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a contract to Rural Health Innovations, LLC, a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center.
The Rural Health Information Technology (HIT) Workforce Program wrapped up this August, and we want to take a moment to recognize the amazing work they have accomplished. The Rural HIT Workforce Program was a three-year grant program funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to support rural health networks in activities relating to the recruitment, education, training, and retention of HIT specialists. The 15 grantees engaged in exciting projects that have made significant impact across the country.
HIT in perspective
This is a difficult time period for the profession of health information technology (HIT). HIT is a new field; we are just beginning to understand HIT roles, and organizations often do not grasp the full value of HIT professionals. In addition, HIT certifications and licensure are in a state of flux.
The 15 grantee networks in the Rural HIT Workforce Program worked within these muddy conditions to define HIT roles and education for the benefit of rural providers. Impressively enough, they are on track to have collectively trained more than 500 individuals. The networks work with hospitals, clinics, FQHCs, emergency services, school districts, public health agencies, and others across over 400 counties throughout rural America. It is truly humbling how many lives have been impacted, directly and indirectly, by their efforts.
Successes among Rural HIT Workforce networks
Here are just a few of the successes the Rural HIT Workforce grantees have shared:
“We successfully employed students in HIT positions at 5 organizations and equipped staff with more HIT knowledge at a 6th organization”
“Helping the smallest Critical Access Hospitals in our state to have some background in Health IT and understand/complete their quality reporting requirements more easily.”
“Through the training we provided, we have over 60 students obtaining certification credentials. All of our 31 network members have obtained MU Level 3.”
“Developed a network of employer partners with active participation in curriculum development, professional practice experiences, work-based learning opportunities and hiring strategies.”
Identifying and surmounting barriers
Of course, there were plenty of challenges along the way as networks worked to achieve these successes. Here are some challenges our grantees experienced and what they did to overcome them:
“Many of the students who enrolled in our program had significant life challenges - illness, family deaths, relocation, unemployment, foreclosure and opportunities - births, marriages, pregnancies. We had to learn early on that life happens and flexibility is necessary. We were able to give students some flexibility with timelines for completing apprenticeships and meeting expectations in order to help them accomplish their goals in the program.”
“Recruiting veterans was a challenge. We increased tuition incentives for veterans which increased our veteran recruiting percentage.”
“Student communication and follow-up quickly became a challenge in our fully online curriculum. However, staff prioritized their schedule around constant outreach, both online, over the phone, and scheduling face-to-face meetings, to establish a comfort level with students and encourage them in low points. The program mandated a face-to-face orientation, which found much success in its implementation and impact throughout the final six months.”
As the new curriculum for HIT education is released by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) next year, this group will be at the forefront in rolling it out and finding the best ways to use it in their local communities. As the Rural HIT Workforce grantees have shown, the ONC HIT curriculum is a good framework that can be made most effective by modifying it with local needs in mind. Vendor-specific modifications, state reimbursement specifics, or provider-specific workflow training are just a few of the examples of how the grantee networks have been serving their members.
Lastly, the Network TA team at Rural Health Innovations (RHI) would like to say “Thank you” and “See you later” to the Rural HIT Workforce grantees. We wish you continued success and want to remind you to stay in touch with us and with all of your fellow grantees in the years to come. Your work will continue to make a difference in rural communities across our country.
The National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining and improving health care in rural communities. Rural Health Innovations, LLC is a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center.