New labs, program built to train students in health information technology

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A working business office, patient rooms and equipment for remote diagnosis fill the new Health Information Technology Learning Center in the Norman Hackerman building.

The center opened Monday in an area that was empty two months ago. It serves as the space for students to earn a Health Information Manager and Exchange Specialist certificate, which allows students to work with electronic health records systems.

The certificate program began when UT received an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the Office of the National Coordinator. Much of the money for construction of the center was provided by the College of Natural Sciences. In the first year of the program, students worked out of Brackenridge Hospital.

Through the program, students learn the basics of six electronic health record systems through time spent in the center’s computer lab and Longhorn mock clinic.

Biology lecturer Kimberly Smith said the two spaces work together to create a unique learning environment for students.

“Having them able to move from the classroom area into the Longhorn clinic is fluid,” Smith said. “It’s all integrated. Every time they walk into the clinic it’s a reminder that this is to help in the field of medicine — help improve patient care.”

UT worked with employers in the electronic health record field to design the center and program to prepare students for employment. From the last session, 92 percent of program graduates got jobs.

Dr. Michael Stearns, president and CEO of electronic health record system company e-MDs, hired graduates of the program. His company needed employees with an understanding of health information technology, so he advised UT when the University designed the program.

He said the graduates of the certificate program are well-prepared and have done extremely well as employees.

“It kind of just shows that academia doesn’t get it,” Stearns said. “They don’t get taught what you need to know. UT actually did step up and recognize the value of embracing industry. So it truly is a joint industry-academia venture.”

Distinguished senior lecturer Leanne Field serves as director of the program that has had much of its technology donated to it from companies like Intel, Cisco and Dell.

2010 alumna Heather Noble is part of the first group to study at the center this summer.

“I think it’s really helpful from a learning standpoint because you get to experience learning a program,” Noble said. “You get to feel what it’s like to be challenged by the program and the excitement of doing the right thing.”