Rural IT Program Reports 'Good Progress'

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The executive director of the Indiana Rural Health Association says an initiative designed to address a "critical shortage" of information technology professionals in rural health care is progressing. Don Kelso says applications are still available for 22-week Ivy Tech Community College training programs. November 11, 2014

News Release

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - A statewide initiative aimed toward resolving a critical shortage of IT professionals in Indiana rural healthcare is "making good progress," according to Don Kelso, executive director of the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA). Planning for the statewide initiative began in 2013 and the Indiana Rural Health Information Education Network (IRHITEN) began recruiting and accepting students in early 2014. IRHITEN is presently accepting applications for the January 2015 22-week training program for certification (positions are also open for September 2015 and January 2016).

"The formal mission of IRHITEN is comprehensive in its focus toward resolving critical rural issues," said Kelso. "We work to develop and maintain a sustainable, rural-focused education and training network that recruits motivated students, delivers certified health IT education and training, facilitate meaningful apprenticeships, and ultimately places graduates in rural health IT jobs."

More than 30 students have begun coursework and apprenticeships toward specialty professional certification and placement in critical rural IT positions. IRHITEN officials have directly engaged more than 100 Indiana rural hospitals, clinics and physician practices in over the past few months in the statewide network. Online information attracted more than 1,000 quality visitors to www.indianaruralhealth.org/IRHITEN. The network developed new marketing materials and outreach activities, including new brand imagery, to more effectively raise awareness and attract qualified applicants.

As part of its commitment to growth and developing quality candidates for the 20-week training program, IRHITEN is presently seeking to ensure that Indiana military veterans are aware of the network and opportunities for reduced fee training. IRHITEN officials submitted an application to the Indiana Veterans administration education director requesting GI Bill approval for the non-credit courses.

"IRHITEN provides a critical need for rural Indiana, as about 70 percent of Indiana is medically underserved, and better information technology services supporting electronic health records and health information exchanges could help alleviate this situation," said Kelso. Part of the network’s work is to help rural hospitals achieve "meaningful use" (MU) of electronic health record (EHR) systems, which will help hospital track and address major chronic rural health issues like diabetes, heart problems and obesity. Meaningful use also supports quality care standards, patient safety and good outcomes, according to Cindy Large, IRHITEN network director.

The IRHITEN network partners with Ivy Tech Community College and HealthLINC to support Hoosier rural hospital and healthcare information technology operations. The new network is funded by an initial $300,000 grant (awarded annually and renewable for three years) from the U.S. Department of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which was awarded to the partnership earlier in 2014. "HRSA's Office of Rural Health Policy provides the funding necessary to commit the staff time, tuition, and other resources needed to ensure the successful development and implementation by embedding the Network into the rural health care system in Indiana and we are deeply grateful for that support," Kelso added.

Indiana hospitals across the state continue to face severe competition in securing top IT talent, which is in high demand to fulfill recent legislative requirements associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to promote high productivity in healthcare delivery.

"IRHITEN plays an important role in promoting and sustaining high quality healthcare in rural areas, as hospitals and clinics need quality IT support to maintain standards," Kelso explained.

"The crisis was created in part by the fact that many IT professionals prefer to work in urban areas, which makes for high competition for a limited number of IT healthcare professionals available in rural healthcare settings," said Large, who is also a registered nurse.

The IRHITEN network is successfully provides targeted training and education for rural healthcare operations, which is directly helping rural healthcare operations face this issue. The IRHITEN partnership draws on the expertise of Ivy Tech Community College and HealthLINC HIE to support the initiative.

IRHITEN partners have been improving the online certificate program based on direct feedback from participants and instructors. The partners initially developed and delivered a 22-week-long certification program focused on two health IT roles: Clinician/Practitioner Consultant, and Workflow and Information Management Redesign Specialist.

In addition to Ivy Tech’s support in online training, the partnership successfully incorporated the services of HealthLINC HIE to deliver the health IT apprenticeship program. HealthLINC HIE (health information exchange) is a not-for-profit corporation, which through its technology and business partnerships with multiple health information exchanges, supports standards-based health information technology (HIT) adoption, health information exchanges (HIE), and innovative use of information for improved health care outcomes.

The next step for the network will create opportunities to help connect recent graduates and other professionals with health-IT specific jobs. “Our continuing focus is on relieving the shortage of available professionals in health IT for rural healthcare operations as quickly as possible,” Large said.

“Indiana presently has 35 Critical Access Hospitals, 60 Rural Health Clinics and 19 rural hospitals that comprise the health care safety net for rural Indiana,” said Kelso. “This new network is helping Indiana rural and small town healthcare operations deliver high quality healthcare services for about one million Hoosiers.”

According to Large, details of the program are as follows: the accepted student will commit between 10-15 hours per week for successful completion of the course. The apprenticeship program runs concurrently with the certification program. The IRHITEN student is required to complete a meaningful use project for the apprenticeship program and logging a minimum 50 hours to successfully complete the project. The site for this project is usually at the students place of employment or at a rural facility closest to their home to eliminate travel.

The certification testing is included in the program, she said. A $500 commitment fee is due to Ivy Tech at the time of class registration. All other costs are provided by the IRHITEN under this grant-funded opportunity. Other details are available online at www.indianaruralhealth.org/IRHITEN.

This program is funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA), Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP), Rural Health Information Technology Workforce Program, by a grant awarded to the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA) in the funding amount of $300,000 annually for three years, under grant number R01RH26271.

About the Indiana Rural Health Association

The Indiana Rural Health Association was organized in 1997 and is a nonprofit organization working to enhance the health and well-being of rural populations in Indiana through leadership, education, advocacy, collaboration, and resource development. The strength of the organization is through the present diverse membership and the founding organizers who are committed to impacting the health of citizens through the identification of rural health issues and through advocacy r