UT Austin receives $2.7M grant to train health IT workers

By Molly Merrill
07:46 PM
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The University of Texas at Austin's new Health Information Technology program is being bolstered by a $2.7 million federal grant that will support four programs aimed at "fast tracking" university graduates into the field of healthcare information technology.

The program graduated its first class of 54 students this past July.

"Our first graduates are really impressive," says Leanne Field, director of the program. "They are entering a field that is rapidly growing and will only continue to gain importance as we move toward electronic health records across the country. The industry demand is very high."

Texas State University is the lead institution for the PURE HIT consortium, a project supported by a grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), that aims at recruiting students to participate in healthcare IT certificate programs and a master's program in electronic health record/health information exchange implementation. The University of Texas College of Natural Sciences in Austin and The University of Texas Health School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston are also participants.

Total funding for the consortium is $5.4 million, the largest award in the nation funded for university-based education in health IT. The University of Texas at Austin certificate program is the first in the nation among those receiving ONC health information technology funding to graduate students.

At the university, the funding will support the establishment of four programs in the health information technology field:

  • The summer Health Information Technology Certificate for recent graduates,
  • A Health Information Privacy and Security Certificate for computer science students,
  • A Public Health Informatics Certificate for public health students, and
  • A Health Information Technology Sub-Specialist Certificate for graduate students.

"A groundbreaking transformation is occurring in the delivery of healthcare in the United States," says Field. "The College of Natural Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences are rapidly responding to this need."

The summer certificate program is nine weeks of intensive study that trains students in the fundamental concepts of health information technology, project management and workflow redesign, operational models of healthcare practice and skill development in the use of various electronic health record systems.

Students are given opportunities to enhance their professional communication and career development skills. Graduates of the program are awarded a certificate as a "Health Information Manager and Exchange Specialist."

Students gain experience in the Health Information Technology Learning Laboratory at the Clinical Education Center at University Medical Center Brackenridge, a member of the Seton Family of Hospitals. They also engage in a two-week practicum with Texas-area e-health companies.

For example, students in their practicum this summer at the Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center in Houston were deployed by Kim Dunn, MD,  to a local nonprofit clinic called Shalom that relied completely on paper health records. The students were given one day to overhaul Shalom's system for monitoring patients with diabetes. They created a new database system for the clinic to add patients and track their health over time.

"The situation in the field right now is really poor," says Daniel Fritz, one of the summer program graduates who interned with Dunn. "These health clinics really need major changes, but if you really sit down and think about the problem you can come up with a solution. We started that day with nothing and came away with something great."

The students were particularly effective because they had gained skills using six different electronic health record systems donated by industry partners, including Allscripts, eClinicalWorks, e-MDs, Inc., GE Healthcare, NextGen Healthcare and Sage.

"It's an investment in the future of our industry and in the young minds that will shape it," said Jim Corrigan, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare IT. "We're thrilled to participate in this learning opportunity and assist in the education of the critical primary care physician segment." GE donated its GE Centricity Advance software.

The summer certificate program has also benefited from major support and collaboration from key players in the e-health industry and nonprofits, including Seton Family of Hospitals, the Texas e-Health Alliance, the TMF Health Quality Institute and the Texas Medical Association.

"We couldn't have accomplished this without the incredible support from these partners," says Field.

To learn more about the program, click here.