Mt. Hood Community College: Blending Health Care and High Tech for New Program

Todd Schwartz
Member Spotlight

A nationwide mandate for electronic health records means the days of paper charts in the doctor's office are numbered—and a multitude of new jobs are available.

That manila folder your doctor carries into the exam room, full of papers and charts containing your medical history, is on the way to being as long gone as the house call. The new age of health care requires much faster and easier sharing of information between providers, so medical records are rapidly becoming, like your financial records, part of a secure electronic database.

In the long run, electronic health records (EHR) will help lower the costs and increase the quality of health care. In the short term, EHR means the health-care industry must implement and perfect processes using new software tools—and they're going to need help. An innovative new program at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) is on the forefront of training students for roles in providing that help as part of a new industry and opportunity called health informatics.

As part of a consortium of Oregon community colleges which are partnering with Oregon Health & Science University, funded in part by federal stimulus grants that mandate the training of some 55,000 workers in health informatics by 2014, MHCC is now offering classes toward certification in the students' choice of two of these new roles: Implementation Support Specialist and Technical/Software Support.

"Implementation Support Specialists provide on-site support before and during the transition to EHR systems at medical offices, clinics, and hospitals," said Donna Larson, dean of allied health at MHCC. "The Technical/Software Support role will continue after the transition with the EHR user, ensuring the technology functions properly and meets the needs of the user."

With 18 of the top 20 careers identified for future growth potential being in either technology or health care, it comes as no surprise that a hybrid of the two offers a big upside.

"The person we're training is a tech person wrapped up in a medical person, or vice versa. We're preparing health informaticians who have a foot in each world," said Wayne Machuca, computer information systems instructor and one of the MHCC faculty who helped develop the new classes. "Although it's a lot to get done in just six months, which is the duration of this training, the students who earn this certificate will have job-ready skills and be ready to go to work. We plan to create a more in-depth Associate of Applied Science degree program in health informatics to follow up this initial certification."

The new program is targeted, at least in the beginning, as an ideal opportunity for dislocated and laid off workers who are looking to reinvent their careers.

"There's an unbelievable market for this," said Machuca. "A lot of well-paid jobs already exist and will continue to be created in this field."

ContactTodd Schwartz, 503.491.7204