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Bridging the Digital Health Care Divide
GW secures $4.6 million grant to develop certificate programs in health IT.
April 14, 2010
The George Washington University has been awarded a $4.6 million grant from the federal government to develop certificate programs in the burgeoning arena of health information technology and to begin training professionals this fall.
The award from the Department of Health and Human Services, announced April 2, is one of the largest training grants ever garnered by the university. The grant “aptly validates the excellence of our faculty in the IT field and the outstanding instructional program they designed,” says GW Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa.
Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the award is part of a $2 billion government spending effort to spur widespread, effective implementation of health IT, including a goal of having electronic health records for all patients by 2014.
The importance of information technology in health care jumped to the foreground during Hurricane Katrina, says Robert E. Burke, chair of the health services management and leadership department in the School of Public Health and Health Services, who led the effort to secure the grant. In the floodwaters, he says, patients at some hospitals lost their medical records, while those within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital system, which was using electronic medical records, were able to relatively seamlessly continue their care, even if they needed to be transferred.
And the topic has continued to influence discussions on changing the health care system. “If you’re going to have health reform you really need to be able to put together a whole information system that’s easy to use, makes sense and is integrated—and yet has all the protections so that people can’t tap into it.”
Beyond electronic medical records, health IT systems could comprise many aspects of a hospital or a physician’s practice, integrating everything from scheduling and ordering supplies to tracking lab orders, monitoring for harmful drug interactions and sending prescriptions to the pharmacy.
“It just creates a much more technologically efficient environment,” says Stephen Badger, CEO of the GW Medical Faculty Associates, the largest multispecialty physician practice in D.C. “And I would also argue that it is a green solution to health care because it eliminates a ton of wasted paper in the system.”
Next year, hospitals and physician groups will be gaining access to stimulus money for health IT upgrades, says Mr. Badger, so it will be “critically important” to train an army of people who can set up and maintain these systems and educate doctors on using them.
The new certificate programs at GW will be geared toward bridging a knowledge divide for two overarching groups—clinicians or health care managers without much IT know-how, and IT managers with little health care experience—as well as other college graduates that fall anywhere in-between, says Dr. Burke.
Four tracks will be offered to train distinct groups of professionals: clinicians and public health leaders; health information management and exchange specialists; health information privacy and security specialists; and programmers and software engineers. Each 18-credit hour program is designed to be completed in six months for full-time students, or in a year at part time.
Each of the tracks will be an expansion of GW’s existing health services generalist certificate, drawing from courses already offered elsewhere at the university. The grant money will be used to reformat those classes—which will be primarily online, bookended by a week on campus—and to partially subsidize tuition for some students during the first three years.
The first certificate students are expected to begin classes in fall 2010, according to Dr. Burke.
The endeavor will bring together departments from four schools at the university—the School of Public Health and Health Services, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, School of Business, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—as well as the GW Medical Faculty Associates.
Credits earned in the certificate programs also will be applicable toward three master’s degrees at the university.
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