HHS chief aims for IT job credentials in a year

A workforce shortage is hampering the widespread adoption of digital health records, largely because job classifications for health information technology personnel have not been clearly defined, an advisory group said during a Tuesday meeting.

That sparked Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to ask the American Health Information Community to identify job classifications and the credentials required for those classifications within "the next 364 days."

Jonathan Perlin, a co-chairman of a working group on e-health records, said HHS should work with the Labor Department to develop job classifications for health IT professionals. The group is an arm of AHIC, the federal advisory group charged with making recommendations to the HHS secretary on accelerating the development and adoption of health IT.

Perlin, the chief medical officer and a senior vice president at HCA, a healthcare company, urged HHS to support funding for university research related to health information management. Increasing the appeal of academic careers in health IT-related disciplines would enlarge the pool of faculty capable of educating the workforce, he said.

Perlin said the number of jobs that are open is "staggering." He suggested that HHS establish a group to better measure specific workforce deficits.

Leavitt said the workforce shortfall was a problem six or seven years ago and acknowledged that it remains an issue.

On Monday, he separately announced that the nonprofit LMI Consulting and the Brookings Institution have been awarded a grant to privatize AHIC. This summer, HHS proposed replacing the advisory body with an independent public-private partnership. Under AHIC's 2005 charter, HHS must establish a successor organization.

The LMI-Brookings duo is slated to fully establish the spin-off, dubbed, AHIC 2.0, by December.

In August, several labor and consumer advocacy groups and the seniors' group AARP expressed concerns that the new entity would lack accountability and transparency. They argued that HHS must continue playing an active oversight role to ensure business interests do not interfere with national interests during the standards-making process.

National Health IT Coordinator Robert Kolodner said in a statement, "The successful establishment of AHIC 2.0 in the private sector will ensure long-term success in the development of a nationwide health information network."

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