Wide River Technology Extension Center Workforce Development
Through a collaborative partnership with the Wide River Technology Extension Center (TEC), the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center coordinated efforts among Nebraska’s post-secondary institutions to promote integration of health IT into the initial and ongoing training of health professionals and support staff. The Workforce Development project was a component of the Wide River TEC’s overall goal to furnish education, outreach, and technical assistance, to help health care providers in Nebraska select, successfully implement, and meaningfully use certified EHR technology. Funding for Wide River TEC’s activities (including the Workforce Development component administered by the Public Policy Center) came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), which included provisions to promote meaningful use of health IT to improve the quality and value of American health care.
Providers who were seeking to meaningfully use EHRs faced a variety of challenging tasks. Those tasks included assessing needs, selecting and negotiating with a system vendor or reseller, implementing project management, and instituting workflow changes to improve clinical performance and ultimately, outcomes. Past experience has shown that robust local technical assistance can result in effective implementation of EHRs and quality improvement throughout a defined geographic area.
The Workforce Development project recognized that healthcare organizations needed a trained workforce to successfully implement and operate EHRs to achieve meaningful use. The Public Policy Center’s goals for the Workforce Development project were:
1. Enhance students’ exposure to electronic health records through coursework.
An electronic health records (EHR) curriculum development award competition was established during the first two years of the Wide River TEC Workforce Development project. The competition was open to instructors across the state who taught at accredited Nebraska post-secondary institutions. The awards supported development of courses new to the instructor’s campus or significant revisions to existing courses, which could not have been funded from existing divisional or departmental budgets. Curriculum development could include didactic instruction as well as substantial incorporation of class projects or service learning projects in the community. The average award was $3,000.
2. Bridge electronic health records education and training with other related initiatives.
Across the United States, healthcare is a dominant and growing employment opportunity. In Nebraska, rural areas, in particular suffer from a lack of qualified health care providers to fill vacancies. The needs and opportunities are great. Along with the institution-specific efforts of identifying and promoting healthcare as a promising career opportunity, the Public Policy Center actively coordinated with other efforts to broaden the reach to potential members of the workforce.
3. Create shared learning among instructors delivering health information technology coursework. Instructors who received the EHR curriculum development awards and others active in designing and delivering coursework using health IT were invited to attend a statewide EHR curriculum development conference. The conference enabled instructors to share strategies and results of their experiences, and identify best practices.
The Workforce Development activities were guided by the Workforce Development Advisory Group. Workgroup members represented Nebraska’s post-secondary institutions active in health professions education, stakeholders from related initiatives, practitioners, and governmental representatives.