August 27, 2009
Movement toward electronic medical records will bring healthy, diverse job growth
Special to NWjobs
The day will come when your doctor will type notes directly into a computer rather than rely on pen and paper. Some day your medical records will be in one electronic file and organized so that your doctor will quickly know your medications, allergies and latest test results. And patients will be able to access their own medical information from the comfort of their home computer.
That day isn’t so far away, thanks in part to the economic stimulus package that passed earlier this year. Doctors who adopt certified electronic medical records (EMRs) for their practice will get incentive pay for five years under the $20 billion Health Information Technology Act, part of the $787 billion stimulus plan. The $40,000 to $65,000 total per physician will mean a lot of money for doctors -- and plenty of jobs for those in the EMR field.
“It’s a very good thing for the industry,” says Malcolm Hooper, operations manager for Seattle-based Practice Partner, a subsidiary of EMR software leader McKesson. “There is going to be big growth in the next two years.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment for medical records and health information technicians is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations, with an 18 percent increase through 2016.
Within the field there are 125 job titles in more than 40 settings, says Gretchen Murphy, director of University of Washington programs in health information management.
The companies that make and sell EMR software are a good starting point for employment. Jobs can run the gamut from sales to training to project management.
EMR sales careers can range from entry-level telemarketers with base pay in the $30,000s to the six-figure field sales positions.
Little travel is required for mid-level sales positions. “For smaller deals, a lot of that can be sold just over the Web, so we do a presentation over the Web using Live Meeting,” says Hooper. “That’s how we engage the doctors and the practices and show them our products. That’s the principal way we sell to small practices (of) one to five doctors.”
Field sales positions are the road warriors who travel extensively and need a medical sales background, according to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Some jobs in the EMR field do require a medical background. The client services workers -- those who configure the software for a physician’s office or train office staff -- need to be familiar with the workflow of a doctor’s office, says Hooper.
The pay range varies widely, according to industry figures from AHIMA and salary.com. Client services workers can earn $40,000 to $90,000 a year and generally travel extensively.
Other careers in the EMR field do not require a medical background, such as computer programmers who create EMR software. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean income for computer programmers is $72,000 a year.
Those in technical support, who answer calls from doctors about the software, need basic computer knowledge for the positions, which are sometimes entry-level. They can earn upper $30,000s to $50,000 a year, according to an AHIMA study. On-the-job training gets them to expert status with the software.
Colleges can be a starting point for specializing in medical records. The University of Washington offers a certificate program and bachelor’s degree in Health Informatics and Health Information Management, with coursework in electronic medical records.
Murphy, the program’s director, says, “Last week I spoke with at least a dozen people interested in the post-baccalaureate certificate. We have students who come to us with a range of backgrounds including IT, business, other areas of health care, marketing.” Shoreline, Tacoma and Spokane community colleges also offer degrees in health information management, Murphy says.
Many trainers and implementation specialists work in smaller clinics, as hospitals tend to have their own IT departments well-versed in EMRs. “Seattle actually has significant development in EHRs [electronic health records] with the area hospitals,” Murphy says.
Johnese Spisso, vice president for medical affairs for UW Medicine, says, “When we work with vendors and select their products, we actually do a lot of the training ourselves. We customize the products to work in our environment and then we use a train-the-trainer methodology where we are training our own staff to be experts in each area.”
Spisso says Harborview Medical Center, the University of Washington Medical Center and the seven UW neighborhood clinics are far ahead of most hospitals when it comes to adopting EMRs. They’ve invested approximately $80 million in EMRs over the past five years and expect that all locations will be paperless within the next two years.
“At our UW neighborhood clinics we are completely paperless and we have had for the past 10 years a completely paperless medical record patients can get access to -- their own electronic medical record,” she says.
Approximately 85 percent of doctors in small clinics aren’t using EMRs yet, Hooper says. Under the stimulus package, the goal is for 90 percent of doctors to be using certified EMR software in a meaningful way within the next decade.
The group that will be certifying software to meet quality standards was not outlined in the stimulus package, but the nonprofit Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) is currently the industry standard for certification.
Sue Reber, a spokesperson for the CCHIT, says, “We believe that the Certification Commission will continue to be a recognized certification body.”
CCHIT certifies approximately 100 vendors, representing nearly 50 percent of the estimated companies in the EMR market. A list of certified companies can be found on the CCHIT Web site.
This article was originally published in March 2009.
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