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Finding the Right Help

Cultivating a workforce to support health IT By Rochelle Tapping, MPPA, and Abel Kho, MD, MS

You’ve been thinking about implementing or upgrading an electronic health record (EHR) system for quite some time, but you’re plagued with the same questions time and time again: Where can I get help and exactly what kind will I need? You are not alone. Some of the largest hospitals and health systems in Chicago face the same questions when it comes to health IT support.

While organizations are deciding what they need, an educated health IT workforce continues to grow. Unfortunately, a gap also continues to grow within this workforce: newly trained individuals have learned the concepts, but they lack hands-on experience. This is where small practices can benefit themselves, the workforce, and other health IT employers. Students who have completed health IT training and education programs are eager to get hands-on experience. At CHITREC, we see this regularly as our internship program gets inquiries from people looking for a way to put their education or prior work experience to practical use. Applicants are seeking opportunities to watch health IT in action and contribute to its success.  Many are willing to volunteer their time to get this experience. Backgrounds vary, but some individuals have a theoretical knowledge of Meaningful Use or health IT implementation or workflow redesign, while others have years of IT or health care experience, but not both.

What kind of help will I need?

Help is available in many different ways depending on the size of your practice and the level of comfort you and your staff have with health IT. Examples of projects that the workforce can help with include: assessing your staffs’ computer and health IT literacy; training staff on basic computer and IT skills; assisting with set up of hardware; educating staff on Meaningful Use,; transferring paper records into the EHR; assisting front desk staff during implementation of the EHR; or explaining the new system and its benefits to patients in the waiting room, with demos of a patient portal.

What qualifications are best?

This will vary depending on the scope of your project and the nature of your practice. In general, practices will benefit from volunteers who have a combination of education and experience in IT or health care. Project management skills or familiarity with an EHR system are also helpful. In reviewing hundreds of resumes, we’ve generally seen two camps emerge: experienced IT professionals with minimal health care experience, and individuals with health care experience but a limited IT background. As with any addition to your team, the key attributes of diligence, attention to detail, ability to work within a team, and professionalism can make up for deficiencies. Perhaps of equal importance is your practice’s ability to help volunteers gain missing health care experience. If you cannot do this, you may need someone with far more experience, but at a potentially greater cost.

How can I train my staff?

Various training opportunities and certifications are available. Local colleges have courses on basic computer skills. Your EHR vendor may also offer basic computer training. Local consultants are available to provide training. Organizations such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, American Health Information Management Association, American Medical Informatics Association, National eHealth Collaborative, and Illinois Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center offer webinars and other educational opportunities. CHITREC hosts workshops and webinars and can work with you directly to customize a program to meet the needs of your staff.

For more in-depth training, staff can take the HIT-Pro Exam (Health Information Technology Professional) and the CPHIMS Exam (Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems) offered by HIMSS, or the RHIA Exam (Registered Health Information Administrator) offered by AHIMA. Consider giving incentives to employees who pass an exam.

How can I find help?

A number of community colleges and unversities within the Chicago area turn out individuals who are pursuing careers in health IT. The CHITREC internship program has relationships with institutions and has placed many students in internships at organizations throughout the Chicago area. If you are interested in hosting an intern or finding a volunteer, contact the institution directly and it will guide you to a career website or to a contact person who may advertise the opportunity to students.

To post a volunteer opportunity on the CHITREC website, call 312-503-2986 or email for details. To view CHITREC’s educational offerings, visit

Rochelle Tapping is the internship program manager for the Chicago Health IT Regional Extension Center. Dr. Kho is the co-executive director of CHITREC.

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