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PCC at table as Rep. Wu hosts health information technology roundtable
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. — Today U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., brought together community colleges, private sector employers and universities to discuss the work force needs of the health care information technology sector.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the economic stimulus bill, was signed into law in February, directed $2 billion toward health information technology. A portion of those funds is directed toward workforce training, based on provisions that Wu successfully included in that economic recovery package.
The roundtable was the latest in a series of meetings that Wu has held in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District to discuss ways that leaders from academia and the public and private sectors can collectively advance health care information technology. Given the current economic downturn, part of the discussions focused on the role of health IT in creating economic growth.
"There are opportunities for entry-level students coming out of community colleges to move straight into the workforce in the field of health IT," said Art Schneider, who serves as interim division dean for business and computer technologies at Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus. "We are working with industry experts to develop the curriculum for a new associate’s degree in computer information systems — health informatics, and plan to continue working regularly with industry to update and improve our offering."
Schneider is a key player in Oregon’s burgeoning field of health information technology, according to Preston Pulliams, PCC president. “He has been instrumental in bringing together various levels of Oregon academia on this issue, working with the Oregon Institute of Technology and Oregon Health & Science University,” Pulliams said.
"Jobs already exist in the field of health IT and the demand for trained workers will continue to grow rapidly," Wu said. "The health IT language that I included in the recovery bill provides timely funds to train people for stable, essential jobs and makes a strong investment in the future health of our economy. We want to create as many new hires as possible within the next two years, but we also have a responsibility to ensure good implementation in the long haul."
Oregon is a leader in the growing health IT field, with numerous businesses focused on technology creation and implementation and established training programs at OHSU and OIT. Community colleges are exploring ways in which they can help prepare students to obtain stable, well-paid jobs in this growing sector.
Those workers are needed in hospitals, community health centers, private medical offices, and other health care facilities across the country.
"I think that the challenge for the training institutions is to give us people we can really use,” said Abby Sears, chief executive officer of the Oregon Community Health Information Network. "There’s a difference between someone who can turn on a server and someone who can use health IT systems well."
Other participants in today’s roundtable raised ongoing questions in the health IT field, including funding and interoperability, which is the ability to transfer data smoothly between various health systems.
"It’s really not about health care, it’s about health," said Russell Hargrave, Oregon Public Health Deputy Chief Information Officer. "Health IT could be the holy grail for public health—a tremendous data resource for research to improve health outcomes—but we need to address interoperability to get that broader value."
Wu will continue to convene discussion forums as Oregon leads the nation in developing, implementing, and maintaining health IT systems.