EMR school offers help for doctors wary of technology

Some physicians might feel like the process of buying and implementing a new electronic medical record system is so complex that a formal education is required.

It turns out you can get one.

Several organizations have developed EMR curriculums to help physicians and health care organizations acquire the education needed to buy and install systems with confidence. The supply and demand for these training programs is growing because of increased pressure on physicians to adopt EMRs and the passing of a stimulus package that offers incentives to do so.

Some programs are being offered by independent companies, while others are being offered by EMR vendors.

"What's very clear from the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] incentives and the drive towards getting 100% EMR adoption ... is you have to have people on site and in the field that know how to use and deploy and make EMRs work," said Edmund Billings, MD, chief medical officer and executive vice president of products for Medsphere. "When you have 15% of practices and under 5% of hospitals that are fully adopted, you don't have a lot of people who know how to do this."

Medsphere, which offers EMR education courses, is the commercial provider of OpenVista, the free, open-source system based on the EMR used by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Another technology consultancy that has been involved with implementations for some time is Network Infrastructure Technologies Health, based in New York. Because of the increasing demand on physicians to adopt EMRs, the company decided to take its knowledge to the classroom to help train others.

Lior Blik, CEO of NITHealth, who is also the chief information officer of Hoboken (N.J.) University Medical Center, said his motivation to create EMR curriculums was twofold: Get practices and hospitals the help they need to make smart decisions; and train people who potentially could be recruited for the expanding number of health IT jobs.

NITHealth offers free, practice-specific training sessions that include CME credits, Blik said. The training takes place at the physician practice.

In January 2010, the Borough of Manhattan Community College plans to begin offering classes that NITHealth helped to design. Three separate curriculums will be offered, one of which is geared toward clinical professionals.

The program, offered only in the New York area, includes 16 classes and four lab sessions and carries a cost of about $3,000.

Other training programs, such as Bellevue, Wash.-based Train for Compliance, offer online courses that they sell as being more conducive to a physician's schedule. A variety of curriculums and certification testing are available, including basic health IT knowledge and HIPAA compliance. Individual courses start at $95, or packages of up to 10 courses can be purchased for approximately $1,500, depending on the curriculum.

Blik said NITHealth is working on developing an online curriculum as well. But he said he prefers on-site learning, as it gives students a chance to work on actual EMR systems.

Who pays for this?

NITHealth has applied for a $4.5 million grant through the U.S. Dept. of Labor to build a training center where professionals from across the country could come to take a federally funded course.

Doctors need this training as part of the government's requirement to get an EMR, Bilk said. Therefore, "I don't think that doctors should have to pay for it. I think the government should pay for it, since they are making it a requirement."

In August, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services announced it would make $1.2 billion available to create a large network of regional health information technology centers. The centers, some of which already are in existence, would support physicians as they implement new systems.

Dr. Billings said the centers will be key, because much of the training physicians need is site-specific. The problem right now is that not enough people have the expertise to staff these centers.

This is one reason that Medsphere launched its free Medsphere University in March, after the stimulus was announced and demand for OpenVista started to grow.

"Putting the same system in different sites can result in different outcomes, depending on how you use it," Dr. Billings said.

This idea of using existing resources pleases Marc Probst, chief information officer of Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City. He said he was happy to see grant money made available for the technology centers and hopes that these courses will help get more people trained. Probst also is a member of the Health IT Policy Committee, an advisory board that makes recommendations to David Blumenthal, MD, the national coordinator for health information technology.

But Probst isn't in favor of sending physicians away from their practices to receive training.

Instead, he said, the training should come to them. Any EMR system doctors adopt needs to be adapted to each practice's work flow.