2009 recovery plan keeps funds flowing for IT training

50,000 new jobs in healthcareIT may be optimistic

In 2009 a lot of people in both IT and healthcare were impressed by the $19 billion the Obama administration gave to the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry to persuade its more luddistic practitioners to store patient files electronically, rather than relying on paper, clipboards and chicken-scratch.

Most either didn't see or didn't understand the amount that would also go to training programs that would help healthcare organizations find the skilled IT people they needed and unemployed or unemployed IT people find work in the hottest tech market in the country.

The $224 billion of the American Recover and Reinvestment Act aimed at education and health care actually included more than $48 billion for education specifically. Most of that was aimed at local school systems that faced drastic cuts because local tax revenue fell far short of school budgets.

Most of the HealthIT funds were intended for IT projects that created a "meaningful use" of electronic health records in the 90 percent or so of doctors' offices and other small-business portions of the healthcare industry that had not yet bothered to modernize.

Millions more went to helping expand healthcare coverage by funding new facilities in under-served areas.

The original push for more education to train IT people qualified to handle all that healthcare work started with $1 billion doled out by Health and Human Services to train as many as 100,000 new HealthCareIT (HIT) people at sites across the country -- with some success.

The money keeps coming, though, and the programs keep expanding, ranging from programs for those interested in biomedical and basic-research support, to university programs for bioinformatics and computer science to and community-college-based courses for basic IT support and implementation.

As of April of last year, HHS was only predicting 50,000 HIT specialists, but was still pumping money into training courses.

The most recent is Bellevue College, which, last week got a $2.7 million chunk of the $6 million it was awarded for two-years worth of programs to support a consortium of community colleges pushing HealthIT training as a career path for people in the Seattle area.

I don't even have anything terribly useful to say about all this, except that IT in a healthcare environment is incredibly tricky -- more for the politics than the healthcare issues. And any additional training or education for both IT-oriented scientists or science-oriented IT people is a good thing.

Although neither one will be able to overcome the resistance of doctors who still don't "use computers" in their practices beyond having an admin print out emails so they can read them the way some old-economy CEOs were famous for doing when the excitement of the dot-com boom was covering up the larger migration from old school to new, and leaving dinosaurs behind.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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