Academic Education

Health Information and Technology Training Creates Innovative Workforce

Health information and technology training prepares candidate for interview

Smartphones have changed communication, much like EHRs have changed patient care. Technology and healthcare are both industries that evolve rapidly as we find new and better ways to do things. And when advancements in both these areas combine, we find better ways to care for patients.

To do that, healthcare organizations need to make sure their teams are ready to not only embrace change, but to drive it. Organizations are also facing an ever-increasing shortage of skilled talent in the market to fill new positions. That is why it’s important for future employees in the information and technology field to keep up to date through the latest training and competencies. Educators that prepare their students will contribute to a skilled workforce to keep up with the times and contribute leaders in the industry.

Healthcare leaders and educators are starting to work together to create job positions and recruit the new generation of top talent that will drive change in the organization. When it comes to education, curriculums are being designed with future employment needs in mind. Training is targeting “soft skills” (or interpersonal skills) to help healthcare professionals collaborate with IT teams, along with ensuring students have the abilities to embrace and implement changes.

In addition, many graduates are bringing more than a diploma to their new position. Many students are pursuing practical experience through jobs while pursuing their education. Healthcare professionals are learning to gather meaningful information from healthcare data and make strategic decisions that impact patient care.

The result of this focus on real-world health information and technology training is a collaborative community of educators, recruiters, administrators, clinical care providers, IT professionals and nursing informaticists all dedicated to driving healthcare toward the future.

In the following articles, discover how preparing students through health information and technology training can make a difference in developing a skilled workforce and positively impact the healthcare ecosystem.

Why Soft Skills Matter in Health IT Training

By Nan Abbot, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Healthcare Information Systems, Johnson County Community College; Part of the HIMSS Approved Education Partner Program

During my more than 30 years in healthcare administration, I was often frustrated by the solutions that well-intended IT staff provided. Many times the new solution changed patient care systems but did not improve them.

I discovered the power of soft skills when I collaborated with an IT consultant who worked to understand the details of my healthcare system. The consultant listened and made insightful inquiries into relevant details to understand our needs and goals, then offered practical, easily implemented solutions that improved the process.

I found myself imagining the possibilities if comprehensive collaboration between IT and healthcare providers were the norm and not the exception.

What if everyone around the table spoke the same language and worked cooperatively toward the same goal? How could we use these skills to bridge the divide or, even possibly, eliminate the divide? And how do we prepare health IT students now so they have these skills to implement them in the workplace?</p>

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are interpersonal skills, whereas hard skills are developed through education and training.

These skills include your communication style, ability to listen and empathize, how well you work with others, etc.—and are increasingly critical in navigating any work environment.

In today’s digitized, complex and extensive healthcare industry, these skills are key to the healthcare professional’s workplace effectiveness and personal well-being.

Gaining and Applying These Skills for Health IT

Today, as an adjunct professor, I’m seeing health IT academic program curriculums respond to this workplace need by making more courses related to interpersonal skills. Health IT graduates develop practical skills for working in interdisciplinary teams such as knowing their role in an effective team, and how to articulate feedback and feedforward to track success and assess change.

Another skill developed in graduates is customer service in a healthcare environment. Unlike other industries, in healthcare there are layers of clients, from direct supervisors to the treating physician and patients. Teaching these skills in health IT programs enables graduates to understand the dynamics of addressing the competing needs and interests of the multitude of healthcare clients.

Interpersonal skills specific to the healthcare domain include understanding and appreciating the delineated roles, rapidly paced environment, challenging realities and dimensions of the patient experience and the essentials of every form of effective communication. Critical thinking and problem solving in healthcare require a substantial combination of hard skills with a solid repertoire of soft skills.

Bridging the Gap

Thinking back to my unsuccessful collaborations with IT teams, I had included them in strategic meetings and provided extensive orientations on what we needed in a solution. But despite these efforts, the team did not quite understand the crevasses or fractures between their proposals and the day-to-day challenges of the clinical teams in providing patient care, coordinating treatment processes and promoting positive patient experiences.

Knowing what I know now, much of the disconnect between IT staff and healthcare staff was due to the complex culture that exists in most healthcare environments. There is a professional hierarchy in the medical profession that may be confusing or seem irrelevant to non-medical personnel. IT professionals may not fully comprehend the host of demands and thus may design systems that are impractical at best, and at worst, violate regulations and laws.

What needed to be done in addition to including them in meetings and orientations was to provide soft skills training to IT and other staff. As more health IT program graduates with this training enter the workplace, we’ll continue to see these skills used to bridge the healthcare divide.

Change Management Lessons Learned from Higher Education

By Christina Neider, EdD, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Programs, University of Phoenix

Change is hard. Data shows that 70% of change initiatives end in failure and this has remained consistent over the years.

But, we also know that one of the best ways to make change work is ensuring that stakeholders at all levels are part of the process. In higher education, this means everyone from the students to the dean is involved in change management. And for healthcare, new staff just out of school all the way to the chief medical officer.

I recently participated in an exchange about change management with students and professionals in the healthcare industry. Since change happens in every industry, including higher education, these students shared they are gaining deep insights into leading change while in school that, once in the real world, they can apply to their work in healthcare.

How Can the Health IT Industry Learn Change Management from Higher Education?

You may wonder how healthcare and higher education are similar. Consider these questions:

  • How will these industries continue to change and innovate to provide better services and outcomes?
  • Will changes and innovation in these industries increase satisfaction?
  • How will these industries increase engagement?
  • What disruptive innovation will lead to industry improvement?

Like healthcare, higher education is changing at a rate so significant, it is often referred to when discussing disruptive change. There are several causes of the change, including costs, decreased funding and a lack of innovation. In other words, is the cost worth the value of having a college degree?

Even campuses themselves are changing. Addressing the needs and wants of three to four different generations of students means creating learning environments with spaces that can adjust to different learning styles with communal spaces for collaboration.

One way higher education is using change management to adapt to the needs of the student population is to implement an education-to-employment mindset with interactive, real-world experiences built directly into the curriculum.

Preparing Students to be Change Management Leaders

Research indicates designing curriculum for future employment is not only what students want, but what employers need. About 60% of students want on-the-job training woven into their academic experience. The goal for students is a smooth transition to the workforce, while employers want recent graduates prepared to perform soon after being hired.

For example, in organizational behavior courses, students are exposed to strategies that can be used for leading change: identify resistance to change, implement processes for transformation and develop models to lead change. These critical concepts are taught to students during their academic experiences so they can then be applied to their work in the real world.

Another way to ensure change management concepts are appropriately taught is for academic institutions to partner with industry advisory boards. Board members are often comprised of industry experts who can lend their expertise to course design and develop meaningful opportunities for students to demonstrate concepts learned.

Students also gain first-hand exposure to these change management trends by participating in professional organizations. This not only provides value in conceptualizing how program content works in real life, but allows students to interact with other professionals and leaders. These interactions help students hone their skills through networking, conversing with industry leaders from multiple disciplines, and showcasing their knowledge and abilities, both professionally and academically.

Higher education institutions need to prepare students to be leaders in change. Providing content in the curriculum to help students adapt to change prepares students to implement the innovation needed in the healthcare industry to help improve patient outcomes.

Graduate Students Can Hit the Professional Health IT Ground Running

By Patricia MacTaggart, MBA, MMA, Director Health Informatics and Teaching Instructor, Health Policy and Management, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University; part of the HIMSS Approved Education Partner Program

In today's health IT environment, graduate school students are as diverse as the employed market. Some graduate students have three or more years of experience in healthcare and others come directly from undergraduate programs, but often work part-time while attending classes. Some students are quite involved with national or local healthcare at the policy level, working on legislation, regulation or policy guidance and understand the healthcare and health IT environment from a conceptual, legal and operational perspective.

Using this variety of experience gained from their education, here are four ways graduate students come prepared for the workforce.

1. New Insights

Graduate education is all about applying concepts and execution of efforts that for health IT students, optimizes clinical technology. When graduate students enter the professional world, they bring with them new ideas and actionable information that providers, purchasers, consumers and oversight agencies can use to support the transformation of healthcare policy, delivery and operations.

2. Hands-On Experience

Most jobs that employers are now hiring for did not exist a few years ago. This means that new graduates—who are learning hands-on about the most current opportunities, technology applications and barriers—can have the same level of knowledge and expertise in the area as someone with more years of work experience.

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3. Practical Skills

Many online and residential graduate programs focus on leveraging technology, data and information to address the health goals of the providers, patients and payers through targeted, practical application. In some cases, graduate students learn to develop requests for proposals, participate in professional writing workshops for articulate communication, and engage in discussions with national healthcare leaders on current cybersecurity issues, expanded use of application programming interfaces, data analytics and telehealth.

4. Business Acumen

Many programs emphasize translation of book learning into a value proposition for an organization by allowing students to work in groups under strict timelines with deliverables applicable to the current market. These include addressing social determinants of health, population health, clinical issues such as the opioid epidemic, and health IT barriers such as interoperability and data governance.

Every graduate invests their time and money to earn their degree. They know how to juggle multiple priorities, like school, work and family, manage their time, meet deadlines and understand the complexity and ever-changing environment of healthcare. Most of all they are adaptable—all traits employers are seeking.

They just need the opportunity to show you what they can do—so yes, they definitely can hit the ground running.

Recruiting the Right People for a Data-Driven Culture

By Debra M. Wolf, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, Director, Healthcare Informatics Program, Chatham University; Part of the HIMSS Approved Education Partner Program

As healthcare organizations engage in the world of big data, the need to recruit data professionals is more critical than ever. This shift toward a data-driven culture requires a well-rounded group of employees who are data literate and who in turn increase the effectiveness of decisions based on data.

Data-Driven Culture Shift

Making this change requires health professionals at all levels be data literate. For example, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, physicians and pharmacists, to name a few, will need to embrace and use data to drive change and improve outcomes.

One of the top predictions in healthcare is a shift in analytics from focusing on big data as a whole, to meaningful and smaller data sets by hospital specialty. This shift requires a higher level of thinking among clinicians and leaders of specialty units.

There are also a variety of health professionals who specialize in data analytics including healthcare business analysts, health information management analysts, analytics specialists, clinical informaticists, etc. Today, the role of data analyst in healthcare is expanding to include report writer, storyteller, data scientist, data detective, senior data analyst or the newest term, citizen data scientist—an individual that makes the connection between the high-level technical data scientist and the more business-oriented data discovery analyst.

Recognizing this shift, academic institutions are supporting the growing need for students to be prepared in understanding the value of analytics in their current or future role. Multiple undergraduate, graduate, doctorate and certificate programs focus on some combination of healthcare, informatics and analytics. These programs integrate theory and concepts focused on using technology, analytics, data, data mining, report writing, storytelling, data management, etc., into their programs.

Finding the Right People

As organizations move to a data-driven culture for healthcare delivery, recruiters and human resources personnel need to be creative in defining the organization’s analytics needs to find the right person for the right job. They should look closer at applicant resumes, especially those who have recently graduated or completed continuing education in the area of healthcare informatics and health-related analytics.

Too often when hiring healthcare data professionals, the description lacks the true needs of the position. It’s important to be thoughtful when titling and defining job openings, because it may limit the applicant pool.

For example, a systems analyst position may be posted, but what is really needed is someone with clinical experience who can assist in developing electronic forms for transitioning from paper to electronic documentation. A better title would be a clinical informaticist, informatics nurse or informatics physical therapist. A nurse or therapist with informatics training looking to transition to a new role would not apply for a systems analyst position, but would apply for a clinical informaticist position. A well-thought out job title and description will capture the attention of individuals who could best fulfill the needs of the organization.

Health administrators and human resources personnel need to collaborate to create job positions for healthcare data analysts where the title and description represent the true needs of the organization as they move toward a data-driven culture. In other words, if you build a job position and title it appropriately, applicants will come.

The views and opinions expressed in this content or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

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Updated May 20, 2021