AS THE US moves toward industry-wide adoption of electronic
health records (EHRs), the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts
a shortage of about 50,000 qualified health IT workers to meet
the growing IT needs of hospitals and other healthcare affiliates.
In an effort to address that shortage, the Office of the National
Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) targeted $116 million for a
health IT workforce development program focused on training
workers in one of six roles in EHR implementation and management. One piece of the four-part program is a health IT competency exam program, which launched in May 2011.
The exams were designed for individuals completing six-month Community College Consortia training programs, another piece of the program, and anyone seeking to demonstrate
their competency. In April 2010 ONC awarded a $6-million,
two-year cooperative agreement to Northern Virginia Community College to create the exam program.
Passing the competency exams is intended to help job seekers demonstrate their knowledge to employers and employers
gauge both prospective and current employees.
“ONC felt there would be a need for an external and nation-
ally standardized measure of achievement for students who
would complete six-month training programs offered by a wide
range of institutions,” explains Adam Wong, a management and
program analyst for the office of the chief scientist within ONC.
“This measure will complement the assessments and other
evaluations performed by the individual schools.”
The exams are not restricted to graduates of the consortia pro-
gram. Anyone with relevant experience can take them. ONC
expects that current employees also could use the exams to fur-
ther their careers.
“We also felt that, consistent with adult learning principles,
any individual wishing to contribute to the health IT workforce should have an opportunity to demonstrate competency,
whether or not that individual had completed a formal training
program. The competency exam could serve that function as
well,” according to Wong.
Mike Niederpruem is vice president of certification services at
AHIMA, which developed the exams as a subcontractor in the
cooperative agreement. The HI T Pro exams are a long-term validation of an individual’s healthcare and IT skills, he says. Individuals who pass them can be considered competent and ready
to implement or manage EHR activities.
“Professionals who take these exams can gain an edge by
learning new technologies and procedures, as well as position
themselves for new careers that are on the horizon,” Nieder-
pruem says. “They will prove a readiness to seize new opportu-
nities in an expanding market.”
Because the exams set benchmarks for competencies, they
can be useful throughout the industry, Wong says.
“For example, employers can use the exams as a simple qualification tool for potential new hires and also assess their own
staff and remaining personnel needs,” he says. “Institutions of
higher education can also utilize the exams to evaluate and improve their health IT programs.”
Sample Exam Blueprint
A CANDIDATE GUIDE, available on www.hitproexams.org,
offers a description of each of the six roles and exam blueprints for the corresponding tests.
For example, the practice workflow and information man-
agement redesign specialist role is described as follows:
Workers in this role assist in reorganizing the work of a pro-
vider to take full advantage of the features of health IT in
pursuit of meaningful use of health IT to improve health and
care. Individuals in this role may have backgrounds in health
care (for example, as a practice administrator) or in informa-
tion technology, but are not licensed clinical professionals.
The blueprint breaks down the roles into domains and
competencies. The redesign specialist examination currently
features seven domains:
x Fundamentals of Health Workflow Process Analysis
x Usability and Human Factors
x Health Management Information Systems
x Quality Improvement
x Introduction to Information and Computer Science
x Terminology in Health Care and Public Health Settings
x The Culture of Health Care
In total, the domains contain more than 60 competency
statements, each of which is tested in the exam and weight-
Six Tests for Six Roles
Six HIT Pro exams comprise the program, each one testing a
health IT workforce role ONC has defined as instrumental in
implementing and managing EHR systems:
x Clinician/practitioner consultant
x Implementation manager
x Implementation support specialist
x Practice workflow and information management redesign
x Technical/software support staff
Exam development began with comprehensive job analyses
for each of the six roles. “These tasks include assessing work-
flow, selecting hardware and software, working with vendors,
installing and testing systems, diagnosing IT problems, and
training staff on various systems,” Niederpruem says.