Health IT effort to create thousands of new jobs, says Blumenthal

By Bernie Monegain
08:20 PM

At least 50,000 new health information management jobs will be needed as the nation moves from a paper to a digital healthcare system, the nation's healthcare IT chief said Tuesday.

David Blumenthal, MD, national coordinator for health information technology, spoke about the government's plans for transforming healthcare into an industry of "meaningful users" of healthcare IT at the 81st annual American Health Information Management Association convention in Grapevine, Texas,

"I know it's not going to be easy," he said. "We're going to need your help to bring this vision to reality."

A workforce training initiative would be announced within weeks or months, he said, but offered no details.

Linda Kloss, AHIMA's CEO, said there is a network of 270 accredited programs for health information management. She said she hopes the federal government will look to expand the current network and avoid programs with no oversight that could "dead-end" people's careers.

"We don't need people in six-month EHR implementation roles," she said.

Interest in existing HIM programs has "exploded" in the past couple of years, she noted.

Don Mon, vice president of practice leadership at AHIMA, said the workforce issue is tied in part to regional extension centers that the federal government would create.

"What's really needed is things after that," he said. "What's really required is the HIM expertise."

Kloss said AHIMA would be "very active" in making sure extension centers hire HIM professionals. "It's a natural fit that will take place," she said.

The government has allocated $70 million to start 70 regional centers, patterned after the cooperative extension centers developed to provide farmers with agricultural research and advice. The healthcare IT regional centers would provide physicians and other healthcare providers with help on the EHR front – not only with selection and implementation, but also with help using the systems.

Blumenthal called the legislation that provides $34 billion in incentives to encourage healthcare providers to adopt healthcare IT and show meaningful use "a brilliant piece of legislation." It focuses on outcomes, patient satisfaction and involving the family "rather than on the equipment we'll be using in pursuit of those goals," he said.

"It seems hard at times to create initiatives," he said, adding that he envisions a day when, instead of a directive to urge healthcare providers to adopt IT, there will instead be a demand for it.

Younger physicians will expect the same nimbleness with information in their work as they have with information in their social life, he said.