Capstone project requires students to develop an EHR plan that demonstrates meaningful use

SAN DIEGO—Students participating in the University of California San Diego Extension Health Information Technology Program are sharing the results of their capstone project—developing a plan to install an electronic health record that demonstrates meaningful use at a community clinic.

In the fall of 2009, UCSD Extension began offering a certificate program focused on preparing students for careers in health information technology. The program was developed in cooperation with the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP), which funded tuition for 100 students using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus dollars. As part of the program, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Medsphere made its OpenVista system, an open-source EHR solution derived from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' VistA system, available to UCSD Extension at no charge so students could apply their training by working with a currently live health IT system.

"This cooperative, mutually beneficial effort gives UCSD Extension students valuable real-world experience and augments the academic training of prospective employees at Medsphere and a host of other health IT companies that will be fully engaged in the ongoing transformation of healthcare," said Michael J. Doyle, president and CEO of Medsphere.

The capstone of the program was the development and presentation of an OpenVista implementation plan for a fictitious community clinic within San Diego called Community Health Connections (CHC). The three-month-long endeavor equipped 29 UCSD Extension students with project management and health IT deployment experience incorporating proposed "meaningful use" of health IT requirements under ARRA.

"While our program focused on a wide variety of health IT topics we were able to take a deep dive into a real EHR system by looking to build out an implementation plan using OpenVista," said David Montanez, who was project manager of the CHC project.

The UCSD Extension Health IT Program has made their implementation plan available under a Creative Commons license in Medsphere's Healthcare Open Source Ecosystem.

"Our desire is to give back to the Open Source community, without which we would of not had the opportunity to interact with a proven EHR solution," said Montanez.

Medsphere has introduced students to the Ecosystem so they could join software developers, clinicians, administrators and health improvement enthusiasts as they engage with their peers and share valuable contributions, said company officials. Although not a health IT jobsite per se, recent grads and job-seekers can showcase their expertise on the Ecosystem in a variety of ways—e.g., blog on healthcare, health IT or open-source topics, help complete a project, answer a question, etc.—and post personal profiles and contact information.

"Given our current federal stimulus and healthcare reform environment, support from Medsphere and the other community-based faculty were invaluable in ensuring that students leave this program with relevant, marketable health IT skills," said Leslie Bruce, an instructor at UCSD Extension. "Beyond the basic project management knowledge our students will retain, collaboration with Medsphere also exposes them to system configuration requirements associated with meaningful use, which will be very valuable when they start applying for jobs."