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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology and Quality

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Health IT Training: At Home in West Texas

West Texas is flat and West Texas is dry. Thanks to the work of the West Texas Area Health Education Center and local Midland College, it is also becoming an incubator for a well-trained Health IT workforce ready to go to work for the largely rural region's health care providers.

Health IT Training & the Safety Net

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 51,000 health IT professionals will be needed in the next few years for the nation to successfully implement electronic health records (EHRs) and become meaningful users of health IT systems.

The Texas Department of State Health Services calls health IT careers “among the most varied and rapidly expanding in the health care field.”

The Affordable Care Act, with its emphasis on quality reporting, quality-based reimbursement and data collection standards only increases the need.

Safety net providers face particular challenges as they compete to develop and retain a health IT workforce equal to the task of building and sustaining systems over time and using them to improve quality, reduce costs and ensure patient-centered care.

Grow Your Own

The rural providers of West Texas realized several years ago that they desperately needed a trained workforce, but lacked the resources and expertise to put together their own training programs.

West Texas AHEC logoEnter the West Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC), with funding from HRSA to “improve the distribution, diversity, and supply of the primary care health professions workforce who serve in rural and underserved healthcare delivery sites.”

By partnering with its neighbor down I-87, Midland College, which receives Health IT Workforce Community College funding from the HHS Office of the National Coordinator, the AHEC gained the Health IT subject matter expertise needed to achieve critical mass and launch activities with the potential to meet the health IT training needs of rural Texas providers, including

  • Health IT Career Symposium to introduce primary care providers and others to topics such as meaningful use and quality; personal health records; and telemedicine.
  • Expanded Health IT training for providers. Responding to student feedback, Midland College doubled course length from 3-4 weeks to 8, giving busy professionals more flexibility to complete the requirements of each course and improving the success rate.
  • Integration of Health IT training within health education programs.

The West Texas AHEC focus on health IT training programs aligns with and complements its mission to provide much-needed health education and training in underserved areas.

“First, the AHEC’s goal [is] to promote all health careers and health IT is an up-and-coming field that our computer-savvy kids find interesting,” said Elisa Williford, West Texas AHEC center. “Secondly, it is a primary function of the AHEC to support providers once they are in practice to ensure they have all they need to practice in a rural or underserved area.”  

Just as the West Texas AHEC has launched many rural health careers by providing health career pipeline programs, summer health career exploration camps and job shadowing experiences, it is developing a new generation of health professionals – health IT professionals – who will help the region’s rural health care providers become meaningful users, received enhanced reimbursement for their services and, ultimately improve the quality of care they deliver.

Map of West Texas AHEC

About West Texas AHEC

AHEC Program Funding in FY 2012: $457,135

Grantee: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Opened with one center in May 2002. Has since opened 4 additional centers that work with health care providers, communities and counties to promote health careers, support area providers and promote healthy living in 105 western Texas counties.

West Texas Area Health Education Center go to exit disclaimer

West Texas Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center go to exit disclaimer

Area Health Education Center Program

Contact: Elisa Williford, center director