U receives $5.1 million for health technology training

The University Institute of Health Informatics was awarded funding to train students in health informatics.

Kyle Potter

A $5.1 million grant will be shared between the University of Minnesota and two other schools in the state to train health care students. The grant was awarded to the University Partnership of Health Informatics, which will use the funding to increase training in health informatics programs at the three schools. UPHI includes the Institute of Health Informatics at the University, The University of Minnesota âÄì Crookston and The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. Health informatics is an increasingly important sector of the health care industry that focuses on the use of technology in order to improve the quality and speed of health care. These programs train specialists who design systems that computerize patient information, including health and prescription records. The grant is part of a push initiated by the recent health care reform act, which requires that the health care industry convert to electronic records by 2014. It is one of nine grants given to universities nationwide as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant is the second largest, behind the $5.4 million given to Texas State University. As a nursing professor and Institute of Health Informatics Lead Faculty Member, Julie Jacko said the grant is crucial to aiding the transition to electronic records. âÄúWe canâÄôt successfully make that shift as a nation unless we have experts in the workforce who know how to do it,âÄù Jacko said. Jacko led UPHI as the principal investigator seeking the grant. By the time the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology announced they would accept grant proposals from universities in December, UPHI collaborators had already spent months discussing what the proposal requirements might be. Proposals were due just weeks after the announcement was made. UPHI heard on April 2 that their proposal was granted. The excitement in JackoâÄôs voice as she spoke of the news was electric. âÄúI feel fantastic,âÄù she said. âÄúIt really positions the University of Minnesota with its partners to be a hub for this kind of training.âÄù Although the majority of the funding will go directly to trainees for tuition, Jacko said part of the grant will be used to improve the current program. The idea is to make it more available online for people who are working at hospitals and clinics and for those who donâÄôt live near the University. The changes made will help unify the health informatics programs at the three schools with one another, and with local health care institutions like Fairview Health Services for practical training. âÄúWhat this does is it just puts more knowledgeable people into our community,âÄù said Ray Gensinger, Chief Medical Information Officer at Fairview. Gensinger said he expects some of his nursing staff to enroll in the program at the University. The importance of shifting health care away from a âÄúpen and paper driven systemâÄù to a standardized electronic system is critical, Gensinger said. One of the ultimate goals is to create a Health Information Exchange, where patient records can be easily transferred digitally between different clinics and hospitals throughout the state. âÄúYou canâÄôt easily exchange whatâÄôs not automated, and you canâÄôt easily exchange whatâÄôs not standardized,âÄù he said. Sue Biedermann, co-principal investigator for the grant at Texas State University, agreed with a need for change, but said the situation at her school is different than at the University of Minnesota. Before hearing of the potential grant, there were no health informatics programs in place. Undergraduate and graduate programs at Texas State University were still in the planning process. âÄúThis kind of scooted it along a little bit faster,âÄù she said of the grant. One undergraduate certificate program, several graduate certificate programs and a masterâÄôs degree program are all scheduled to be opened for enrollment in July. Biedermann said her Health Information Management Program is excited, but they know they have a lot of work ahead. Back at the University, there is nearly 40 years of history in health informatics training. Jacko is confident that their work will be completed swiftly. âÄúWe have so much experience in this area, we are at an advantage,âÄù she said. âÄúWe can ramp up very quickly and get the job done.âÄù