College of American Pathologists
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October 2010

Raymond D. Aller, MD
Hal Weiner

Health care informatics: the new kid on campus Health care informatics: the new kid on campus

Reconsidering your career? Focusing on your future? Picking a profession? The health information technology field has much to offer.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has estimated that over the next five years the health care industry will face a workforce shortage of 50,000 qualified HIT professionals. To close the gap, the ONC, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is funding informatics training programs at universities and community colleges nationwide.

“There’s this continuum of programs that has been conceptualized and implemented by ONC. It’s really unprecedented activity in the area of biomedical and health informatics to develop a trained HIT workforce,” says Jeff Williamson, vice president of education and academic affairs for the American Medical Informatics Association.

A heightened demand for HIT professionals and a promise of federal funding have led many universities to expand their informatics programs. Among their offerings are post-graduate degrees and certificate programs for health care professionals who want to strengthen their IT skills to improve job performance or change careers. Many of the programs are targeted at physicians, nurses, and medical technicians, as well as those in nonclinical health care positions, including risk managers, quality control experts, and health information management professionals

A peek at some programs A peek at some programs

Johns Hopkins University is offering programs that focus on how providers can apply informatics in their daily work, says Harold Lehmann, MD, PhD, director for research and training in the Division of Health Sciences Informatics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Most of our informatics training goes toward people who come from the health domain and want to learn enough informatics so that they can be effectual and useful in their organization for managing the health IT systems,” he explains.

Johns Hopkins offers several informatics programs and introduced this year certificates in clinical informatics, applied health informatics, and public health informatics. The school began offering a master’s degree in applied informatics in 2009. The one-year program trains students on how to develop information systems used in hospitals, clinics, and public health settings. Johns Hopkins also offers a two-year master’s degree program that focuses on informatics research and a research training fellowship for pre- or post-doctoral students interested in informatics research.

Last year, Duke University created the Duke Center for Health Informatics. The center collaborates with Duke’s schools of medicine, nursing, engineering, and business to provide an interdisciplinary approach to health informatics education for physicians, technologists, nurses, and health care administrators. “An increasing number of people who are engaged in clinical activities are recognizing that they need to know just a little bit more about informatics,” says Ed Hammond, PhD, director of the center.

The university is accepting applications for a new online informatics certificate program that will begin next spring. The introductory level program will provide an overview of health informatics and address how data, information, and knowledge are represented and used in health applications.

The school also has three master’s degree programs in informatics—the newest, which began in August, is a master of management in clinical informatics. The one-year program trains students to be leaders in health informatics roles, such as chief medical or nurse information officers. The other programs lead to master’s of science degrees in nursing, with an informatics specialty, and biomedical engineering.

The University of Illinois at Chicago has been offering a post-master’s certificate in health informatics since the mid 1990s, says Larry Pawola, PharmD, department head in biomedical and health information sciences in UIC’s College of Applied Health Sciences. The university also offers a master’s of science degree in health informatics and a post-baccalaureate certificate in health informatics. All programs are offered online only.

Dividing the dollars Dividing the dollars

All three schools, and numerous others nationwide, are receiving a share of the $84 million the federal government is awarding universities and community colleges under its Health IT Workforce Development Program. Funding for the university-based informatics training programs is going toward six careers: clinical public health leader, health information exchange specialist, program/software engineer, research and development scientist, health IT subspecialist, and privacy and security specialist.

Johns Hopkins is getting $3.7 million over three years. The bulk of the money is going toward student scholarships, says Dr. Lehmann, noting that the university initiated the certificate programs before being awarded the funding.

Duke received almost $4 million in stimulus funds—$1.82 million for community college curriculum development and $2.1 million for master’s and certificate student scholarships. The school is splitting the $2.1 million portion of the grant with its partner in the university-based training award, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says Meredith Nahm, PhD, associate director of academic programs for the Duke Center for Health Informatics.

The University of Illinois too obtained several million dollars in stimulus funds, in conjunction with other Chicago-area universities, for curriculum development and tuition subsidies, Dr. Pawola says.

An upswing in enrollment An upswing in enrollment

Interest in UIC’s informatics programs has skyrocketed over the last few years, growing from about 30 students in 2007 to more than 400 today. Dr. Pawola attributes the growth to UIC’s increased marketing efforts and growth of the health technology field, driven in part by the government’s focus on electronic health records.

Some students, such as those directly involved in caregiving, are taking informatics courses because they’re burned out and looking for a change, Dr. Pawola explains. “I would say there’s a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the economy is what it is and people are looking for opportunities.” About two-thirds of UIC’s informatics students come from the health care field, while the remaining one-third come from general backgrounds, including information technology, he adds.

“The advantage of health informatics is that it’s very broad and it doesn’t focus on one area,” Dr. Pawola continues. “It’s not clinical informatics; it’s not nursing informatics; it’s health informatics,” he says, noting that the coursework covers not only clinical content but also such nonclinical areas as reimbursement, insurance, data mining, and public health.

Johns Hopkins admitted about 75 students to its informatics programs this school year, Dr. Lehmann says. About 80 percent have a health care background and about 33 percent of those are physicians and nurses.

At Duke, the new informatics certificate program has about 40 slots, which, Dr. Nahm says, the university predicts it will fill. The school’s administration expects interest to come from providers, such as physicians, who will champion the implementation of health information technology at their institutions.

Jumping on the bandwagon Jumping on the bandwagon

No matter the program or school, Dr. Hammond, who is a former president of the American Medical Informatics Association and the American College of Medical Informatics, views providers’ overall interest in informatics as a boon to the health care industry. “To me,” he says, “the excitement is the fact that there are people who are engaged in clinical activities that recognize the importance of informatics to the importance of what they’re doing.”

Adding to medical professionals’ interest in HIT as a career choice is that a growing number of organizations that represent medical specialties are acknowledging the need for their members to understand and use informatics. The AMIA, for one, has partnered with various medical specialty groups, including the American College of Physicians and the Society for Technology in Anesthesia, to offer those groups’ members an introductory level informatics course through its distance education program.

Efforts to boost the health care IT workforce come none too soon, says AMIA’s Williamson. “Health care,” he explains, “is one of the last economic sectors to integrate information technologies into its many user communities.”

CSC outlines challenges to implementing meaningful use CSC outlines challenges to implementing meaningful use

Computer Sciences Corp., a consulting group based in Falls Church, Va., offers on its Web site two briefs explaining the top 10 challenges to meaningful use for hospitals and eligible professionals. The briefs focus on stage one meaningful use criteria and offer guidance on tackling the new federal requirements.

The hospital brief states that the most significant challenge to hospitals is “doing CPOE right the first time.” Because computerized physician order entry “affects almost every person and every process in the hospital, subsequent attempts after a failed or stalled effort will encounter a great deal of resistance,” the brief says.

The most significant challenge to eligible providers is data entry and download operations for capturing and storing patient data, according to the brief for eligible providers. Nearly all data needed for stage one meaningful use must be entered as structured data elements “so it can be sorted and selected for reporting and other features, and in the cases of many data elements, entered using specific coding systems or vocabularies such as ICD, SNOMED, RxForm, and LOINC,” the brief states.

The briefs are available at

New government Web site registers medical volunteers New government Web site registers medical volunteers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a Web site that provides a single point of entry for medical professionals nationwide who want to sign up to volunteer in advance of an emergency or disaster in their state.

The Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals, or ESAR-VHP, is a national network of state-based programs that verifies the identity, licenses, and credentials of health care professionals before an emergency occurs.

The Web site is geared toward physicians, nurses, medical technologists, medical records technicians, dentists, veterinarians, clinical social workers, and mental health consultants.

Registering with ESAR-VHP does not obligate health care professionals to serve. Participants can opt in or out when contacted for volunteer service.

The Web site is located at

Sunquest upgrades Collection Manager software Sunquest upgrades Collection Manager software

Sunquest Information Systems has released version 6.3 of its Collection Manager laboratory information system software.

The upgrade includes enhanced features for defect corrections and generic fee-for-service requests. It delays information download until results or order updates are completed. The results processor checks all components used in a calculation to ensure that all test results are filed before executing the calculation.

Improvements have been made to result flag and auto-file functionality as well.

SCC releases enhanced version of SoftBank II SCC releases enhanced version of SoftBank II

SCC Soft Computer has received FDA market approval for its SoftBank II, version 25.1, centralized transfusion service management system.

This latest version allows for verification of ISBT labels generated during component modification. Users can see whether the labels are correct based on information in the database. The SoftBank system tracks label verification as part of the record for the blood product unit.


Providence Health and Services, Portland, Ore., has signed a contract with GE Healthcare under which it will integrate its laboratory and diagnostic imaging applications with GE Centricity electronic health records software. Providence is using the EMR-Link software of Ignis Systems Corp. to integrate the applications with the EHR software.

Cerner has announced that it will implement its PathNet laboratory information system at the Ottawa Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and Cornwall Community Hospital, all of which are members of the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, in Canada. Installation of PathNet is the first phase of a project to implement numerous Cerner laboratory solutions at the hospitals.

Aspyra recently reported that it will install its CyberLab laboratory information system at Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center, Safford, Ariz.

Dr. Aller is director of informatics in the Department of Pathology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He can be reached at Hal Weiner is president of Weiner Consulting Services, LLC, Florence, Ore. He can be reached at