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A guide for the health IT-perplexed

Encountering the world of healthcare information technology is a lot like being a first-time foreign tourist in Las Vegas. We've all been puzzled by the flash and the alien language of this industry at one time or another.

Some of my own memories of that befuddlement came flooding back this week when I started reading a new guidebook to the healthcare IT, "Meaningful Use and Beyond," published by O'Reilly and co-authored by open-source health IT mavens Fred Trotter and David Uhlman.

The target audiences of the book are veteran IT professionals from other industries and recently minted college computer science majors who might be looking to start careers in health IT.

"These recruits to healthcare will bring valuable lessons learned through work in online commerce sites, financial institutions, or large corporate and university campuses, but they will be fundamentally bewildered during their first year or so at a hospital or clinic," according to the preface.

Trotter, who calls himself "a hacktivist, coding for social change," writes programs, consults and blogs. Uhlman is the CEO of ClearHealth, a developer of open-source practice management and electronic health-record systems.

The highest compliment I can pay Trotter and Uhlman is to say I wish their book had been available to me as a decoder ring when I started out.

But it is available now, and for those chief information officers considering hiring healthcare newbies to help reduce the estimated 50,000-employee health IT national workforce shortage, you could do worse for welcoming gifts.

Trotter said in a telephone interview that a first draft of the book was posted online about eight months ago and "we basically open-sourced our original version." Using the public comments, "we'd revise it and add chapter, and then revise it and add chapters," he said.

The text generated more comments than any other O'Reilly book, hundreds in all, Trotter said.

Why write a beginner's guide?

"What we were seeing was, it takes about five to 10 years for people getting into health IT to get their footing," Trotter said. "We aimed at meaningful use, which is to say, here is all the stuff you need to be meaningful-use-compliant, but here are all the things you need to know to be able to talk effectively about meaningful use.

"Of course, if something takes five years of hard study, you're not going to get it all done in one book," Trotter said. "What we'd like to try to get that down to is two years. We think that this book helps."

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn.



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