Hospitals, clinics and other health care providers will be required next year to handle all health records electronically, according to a federal government report. Thousands of hospitals nationwide and in the South Puget Sound region already have made the switch, including MultiCare Health System.
Pierce College, along with a consortium of eight other community colleges nationwide, is paving the way to ensure health care institutions will have the adequate labor force to implement the law when the mandate hits. The consortium is backed by nearly $11.8 million in federal grant money from the Department of Labor that builds a new health informatics program. Pierce College received more than $570,000 of that last year, and it began to administer an associate degree program in health informatics and integrated technology.
“The college had been drafting what a degree like this would look like,” said Donna Moran, the health informatics instructor and program lead. “Then, in October 2012, the college received the grant.”
Moran said the associate degree targets military veterans and those whose jobs have been sent overseas. However, anyone can register for the program, regardless of their skill-set or technical background.
The grant will benefit the program for a three-year period. Moran said the first year ended on Sept. 30.
This fall, the program has 40 students, 14 of whom are in their second year.
“This is a database degree with a health care emphasis,” Moran said. “What we’re looking at is the back-end support. Back end is building the database that is holding the data.”
Apart from the associate degree, students who enter the program with an information technology background can complete a one-year certificate program instead, Moran said.
The grant has helped to build the foundation for the program, Moran said. In addition, it’s also provided funding to hire a navigator for each student.
“Navigators help students that are in their second year,” Moran said. “The navigator helps them through the program and helps them with their resume and applying for jobs.”
The program has been a game-changer for Holly Emerson, a veteran who worked as a registered nurse for 35 years for the same doctor. When the doctor retired, Emerson decided to pursue a different career. She began the Pierce College program in January.
“The instructors are all very helpful and willing to go the extra mile so that you learn what you need to succeed,” Emerson said. “And the other students are helpful and willing to teach you what they know. Not having grown up with computers, it’s been a steep learning curve. But if I can learn at my age, anybody can. And it’s exciting to learn new things.”
Pierce College utilizes an advisory board to oversee the program. It consists of representatives from MultiCare Health System, Sound Physicians, Madigan Army Medical Center and Western State Hospital. Moran said they have promised to help to provide internships and to offer job leads where possible.
In addition, a portion of the grant upgrades the medical assistant program that Pierce College offers, Moran said.
“These are the people who do the front end (of medical records),” she said. “The grant updates those skills in that program, and we’ve just finished all the changes for that curriculum.”
For more information, visit www.pierce.ctc.edu.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001.