As a former hospital chief medical officer, Eric Silfen knows firsthand that executives need a solid understanding of healthcare information technology to implement and use it effectively. After deciding on-the-job training wasn't enough, Silfen went back to school to expand his IT expertise. He's now a full-time postdoctoral fellow pursuing a master's degree in biomedical informatics. But what about those executives who want to raise their technology IQs without quitting their day jobs?
Silfen and his colleagues at Columbia University's Department of Biomedical Informatics are launching an intensive training program specifically designed for executives inside and outside of the healthcare industry The short course in biomedical informatics will debut May 23-27, 2005, on the New York university's health sciences campus. The department also is planning an executive master's program taught primarily through distance learning and niche courses on specific field-related topics.
Finding a niche
The new programs tap an emerging market, Silfen says, because they target community leaders, business managers and healthcare professionals who want to become more IT- savvy but don't necessarily want to pursue a degree. "We felt there was a significant opportunity and deficiency for providing (executives with) training and exposure to all of the cutting-edge developments and changes that were taking place in the world of biomedical informatics," says Silfen, director of the executive programs. "We're designing (all three programs) with an intent to outreach in the working community, so people can be exposed to what is going on in a high-level academic environment and use that information to help them in their daily work."
The five-day program will focus on biological and clinical informatics, business and financial issues, organizational strategy, preventive medicine and public health informatics, as well as health services research. It will be taught through lectures and hands-on laboratory sessions using Columbia's information systems.
Stephen Johnson, an associate professor and director of the department's graduate degree program, says the short course is a microcosm of a yearlong class that covers the methodologies and theoretical foundations of biomedical informatics. "We have five days to impart a whole field," says Johnson, who is responsible for curriculum development. "In that, we have to reflect not just, `Here's stuff you can do with computer applications,' but also, `Here are some of the scientific principles behind why things work or don't work.' "
According to the American Medical Informatics Association, or AMIA, 10 other U.S. institutions offer short courses in medical, nursing or healthcare informatics. Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., for example, has a four-day course in medical informatics that is available online as well. The course attracts both academic and industrial participants. The Oregon Health & Science University in Portland has a two-day continuing education course in biomedical informatics for clinicians. In Woods Hole, Mass., the National Library of Medicine presents a weeklong fellowship program in medical informatics that typically draws medical librarians, clinicians and educators (July 5, p. 23).
A diverse audience
While most of the other short courses are intended for clinicians, Columbia's program will focus on attracting participants from all industrial settings with a stake in healthcare IT. That would include health systems and physician groups, but also accreditation organizations, consumer groups, government agencies, insurers and pharmaceutical companies.
"The programs present the opportunity for our faculty to network with folks who are doing significant work out in the field," Silfen says. "What differentiates us from (the other programs) is this outreach approach. We want to create a collaborative network within the environment of healthcare information systems."
The fee for the five-day program is $2,950, with a 10% discount available to members of AMIA and the International Medical Informatics Association, as well as Columbia employees, faculty members and graduate students. The deadline for registration is May 1, 2005, and enrollment will be limited to 60, Silfen says. The department plans to offer the course again in fall 2005.
Startup funding for the executive programs is coming from Columbia's biomedical informatics department, says Edward Shortliffe, professor and chairman of the department. "We hope it will be self-sufficient and maybe generate some revenue that we can plow back in for future programs," says Shortliffe, who is participating in the programs' development and also created Stanford's short course, which has been running since 1994.
The application process for Columbia's executive master's program will begin in September 2005, with classes slated to start the following fall. Candidates will complete most of the 36-credit program via distance learning, so they will be able to maintain their jobs while they study, Shortliffe says. However, they'll still need to spend a week or two on campus each semester. "We will always require them to spend time here," he says. "We're looking to create a culture of biomedical informatics. To do that effectively, they need to rub shoulders with people in the field."
The department also plans to introduce its executive niche program in fall 2005. Each niche course will run one to 11/2 days, either at Columbia or on-site at another organization, and will team presenters and attendees to discuss new research and fields of study. For example, one session might bring together biological researchers and people in the pharmaceutical industry, Silfen says. The first course will focus on women in biomedical informatics, but the details have not been determined, he adds.
While enrollment in the intensive course began only last month, the program already is garnering interest and support from Columbia students. Franklin Din practiced dentistry for 20 years in New Jersey before becoming a postdoctoral fellow in biomedical informatics at Columbia. Like Silfen's, his fellowship is funded through a National Library of Medicine education grant, which Din says eliminates the financial pressure to work. But for executives who have to earn a living while they study, this program makes sense, he says-especially if the organizations where they work will pick up the tab. After taking the short course, he says, when executives need to make a decision about an IT system, they "can ask intelligent questions and actually analyze it. It makes for a better consumer overall. You need somebody who can talk to the doctors and explain it to them in their language."
Kathleen Harkness Passarelli is a freelance writer based in Frankfort, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected].