Managing healthcare through information technology

Lara Khansa holds iPad with EHR in front of paper healthcare records
Teaching health information technology during a time of frequent change in the industry means that "my students and I can make a difference in the real world, both with our research and by joining the workforce and helping to establish a nationwide EHR system," says Lara Khansa.

With healthcare data increasing in volume and complexity, competent professionals in this field are in hot demand, as are the programs that equip students with the specialized knowledge and skills.

Such programs include a two-course offering in health information technology taught by Pamplin faculty within Virginia Tech’s master of information technology program, ranked No. 2 in the nation. The module is so popular, program director Tom Sheehan says, “that it generally reaches capacity within 48 hours of open registration.”

“That’s a testimony to the expertise and dedication of Professors Lara Khansa and Steve Sheetz, who teach the courses,” says Sheehan.

Urgent need for healthcare IT

“But it’s also evident that, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the quantity and complexity of healthcare data will increase exponentially,” he says.

“That legislatively mandated increase is compounded by the aging of the baby boomers, all of which puts a sense of urgency into the education of competent professionals who will be capable of leading the search for solutions,” Sheehan adds.

“Everyone wants to learn about health information technology to become more qualified for the many jobs that the Affordable Care Act has generated in this field,” says Khansa, an associate professor of business information technology who teaches the first course in the sequence.

“Students recognize that they need to differentiate themselves with a unique skills set that will land them their dream job, and this is the industry to be in at the moment,” she says.

Healthcare systems module

The courses, taught over the summer, were introduced two years ago and are Pamplin’s most recent addition to the lineup of modules in the graduate IT program.

Healthcare Information Technology, the first course, provides a comprehensive coverage of information technology in healthcare systems and establishes the knowledge foundation that healthcare managers need to understand electronic health record (EHR) systems and related new technologies and how they can improve patient health and medical systems operations.

The course covers such topics as clinical decision support systems, population health and disease management systems, patient centered care, and design and implementation best practices and challenges surrounding EHR systems, including security and privacy issues and associated regulatory principles and policy implications.

Data management course

The second course in the module, Healthcare Data Management, is taught by Sheetz, an associate professor of accounting and information systems.

Building on the first course, it provides an in-depth investigation of the EHR issues and topics.

“EHRs are at the heart of technology-based efforts to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of providing healthcare,” says Sheetz. “Thus, students need a deep level of understanding of the data in EHR systems to appreciate and measure the implications of process improvements.”

One of the substantive obstacles facing health care providers, he says, is the integration of data from multiple sources to form a comprehensive EHR.

The topics in his course, he says, are aimed at making students aware of the issues and developing their ability to use data warehousing and data mining techniques for identifying the most effective and efficient treatments to reduce overall health costs.

Also covered: health related record organization from multiple user-group perspectives, including patients, technicians, nurses, physicians, clinics, hospitals, and insurance companies.

In addition to the Health Information Technology module, Sheehan says students interested in specializing in the healthcare industry are encouraged to take the other two Pamplin modules that provide the core background: Business Information Systems, which covers database implementation, and Decision Support Systems, which covers the use of that data in optimizing healthcare delivery.

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 14

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