2016 Convention: HIM Education, Workforce Must Jointly Embrace Learning Data Analytics

As the health information management (HIM) profession continues to transform in the wake of electronic health record system implementations and other health IT advances, so too must the HIM educational system change if it wants to produce graduates worth their salt in the real world.

Finding that sweet spot, “Where Education Meets Workforce,” is the focus of its own convention track taking place Monday afternoon. Track coordinator Desla Mancilla, DHA, RHIA, senior director of academic affairs at AHIMA, says the track aims to highlight the symbiotic relationship between what happens in academic programs and workplace settings—and share innovative solutions to closing the existing gap between skills taught in HIM education and skills actually needed in employment.

“Education for the sake of education is not what prepares individuals for future career-based roles,” Mancilla said. “Understanding what the workplace needs are and collaborative work between educators and employers to design academic programs to meet those needs is critically important to educators, employers, and students. Seeking solutions to narrow the gap between education and workforce is a worthwhile effort that should promote employability of new graduates and satisfy workforce needs for well-prepared individuals to fill in demand jobs.”

Skills in data analytics and informatics are growing in importance for HIM professionals as healthcare providers look to better leverage their health information. Transitioning HIM professionals to these new workplace roles requires strong data analytics and data management skills in the academic preparation process, Mancilla says. But challenges exist for educators and employers.

Overcoming these challenges is the focus of the track session “Using Open Source Tools and Public Data to Adopt Analytics in Education and Practice,” taking place from 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Monday in rooms 321-323, and presented by Ryan Sandefer, MA, CPHIT, chair of the department of health informatics and information management at the College of St. Scholastica, and David Marc, PhD, MBS, CHDA, assistant professor and health informatics graduate program director, health informatics and information management, at the College of St. Scholastica. Session attendees will learn about accessible tools and public databanks that can help drive organizational change around data analytics, as well as why there is a need for data analytics, existing challenges, and effective methods for training on this skill.

“The intention is to demonstrate how academia is focusing more on educating students on data analytics and software for the purpose of supporting a skilled workforce to take on the analytics roles,” Marc said.

Data analytics is a technical skill that comes with practice—and providing students or employees that practice can be difficult. A common barrier to learning data analytics skills is cost—the high cost of data analytics software licenses have put them out of reach for large numbers of educators and professionals, Sandefer said. This session will discuss some low-cost open source tool options that can be used to train on data analytics, as well as public domain databases that “offer both academic programs and the existing workforce resources to support investigation into operations, finances, and clinical outcomes,” Marc said. “There is an ample amount of health data that lives within the public domain that is largely unused due to the inability to easily search and retrieve the information.”

There is a tendency to think about data analytics as something so advanced that many HIM professionals can’t think of themselves in the role, Sandefer said. But data analytics is within reach with the right training, and can be as basic as reformatting data to make it easier to work with.

“Data analytics is creating a visualization that demonstrates the impact of a new program. Data analytics is developing a dashboard that routinely aggregates basic data and creates organizational efficiencies,” Sandefer said. “The power of data analytics is telling stories. I’m very excited about the stories that can be told about population health management as the industry continues to implement healthcare reform.”

While the HIM profession is changing rapidly, this is also opening up opportunities aligned with HIM expertise, Sandefer said. Health data analytics is one of the emerging areas that fits perfectly with the HIM profession. “By combining the healthcare information understanding with some technical skill, the possibilities are endless in the new data-centric world we are living in,” Sandefer said.

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