Q&A with Leanne Field, Director of UT Austin's New HIE Laboratory

The University of Texas at Austin formally launches its Health Information Exchange (HIE) laboratory this week. This laboratory simulates the national, state and local networks that are being developed to electronically exchange medical data. To provide more insights on this initiative, we caught up with Dr. Leanne Field, director of the nine-week Health IT certificate program at The University of Texas at Austin. She was kind enough to participate in the following Q&A.

How has the partnership between The University of Texas at Austin and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT worked in enabling this new certificate program? What are some of the key touch points?

Dr. Field: ”The program’s inception was the result of a University Based Training Grant awarded by the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to the Professional University Resources for Education in Health Information Technology (PURE-HIT) Consortium, which is a collaboration of three Texas universities: Texas State University (the lead), The University of Texas at Austin, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Biomedical Informatics.  This funding made possible the rapid development and delivery of three certificate programs at the University of Texas at Austin which are designed to educate three distinct groups: computer science majors interested in gaining competencies in privacy and security; practicing public health professionals at city and state health departments, who are charged with implementing new processes to facilitate the interoperable movement of healthcare data within the State; and post-baccalaureate students who are seeking the knowledge and core competencies to enter the Health IT workforce for the first time.

“To date, more than 375 individuals have been educated in these programs since April 2010, and nearly 200 of these received 100% tuition support from the grant funding. Without the ONC funding, many of these individuals would not have been able to participate in this education.

“We are honored to have been visited and recognized by two national coordinators, who praised the Health IT Nine Week Certificate program as a successful implementation of the ONC for Health IT’s vision to equip a Health IT workforce. We also have collaborated with the Public Health Coordinator from the ONC for Health IT who has given several students the opportunity to participate in public health informatics research projects under his direction for their practicum experiences.

“The public health coordinator also is collaborating with our faculty to develop and teach a new ‘Methods in Public Health Informatics’ course. This course will give public health professionals in the Public Health Leader certificate program an opportunity to develop public health informatics problem-solving skills, and to gain hands-on experience with the tools and technologies in our learning center using a case-based approach.

“Being able to carry on meaningful dialog with the ONC for Health IT is an essential ingredient to the success of this program.”

In your HIE lab and health IT center, your students seem to get hands-on experience with HIE technology and EHR applications. This is a great way to engage in a practical way. How do the students find this experience? Do they enter data into the applications and track it through a simulated workflow and data exchange?