In e-Learning, as in most corporate learning modalities, we are singing the same old song: no time, no money, and no interest in training. But wait! This time it’s different! We’re talking about healthcare now, and this year there are still lots of all those reasons not to train in this growing sector of the economy.

So, how does a healthcare learning professional capitalize on the advantages we have today to help build tomorrow?

You can do it easily with the technological training tools we are already using. With the wide dispersal of information available through e-Learning technologies, we can leverage the available time, money and interest to improve the future for our patients and our providers.

Leveraging the time

Hospitals, medical offices, clinics, and long-term care facilities find themselves downsizing and right sizing, just like most other businesses in this economic climate. At the same time, they are gearing up for the onslaught of the healthcare needs of an aging population. That means now is the time to deliver training, while we are in a sort of remission period between the go-go years of prosperity when we spent more freely on necessary and discretionary healthcare, and the lean years ahead when fewer dollars will have to go much further to serve the expanding senior population.

In an economic downturn, it is inevitable that people have less discretionary income. Even critical spending decisions, such as doctor’s visits and non-essential surgery, are subject to increased scrutiny. The result is fewer paying patients, and fewer paying patients means less work for healthcare providers.

Healthcare is not immune to the downturn. Hospitals are laying off staff. Some organizations or departments are merging, even closing, at an increasing rate. As in other industries, when the downturn hits the staff it is time to do something counterintuitive and increase training. When you have fewer people, remaining workers are retooling and repositioning to fill in the gaps. Organizations have to do more with less people and less money. And you need to address morale.

Effective training increases the productivity of remaining staff. But if there are fewer dollars in the system, there is less money in the system for training, too. The key is to find the most cost-effective way to deliver training, and to maximize the potential of the human capital still under the organizational roof.

Train now. Benefit later.

Leveraging the money

Stimulus money abounds, especially in healthcare where $19 billion is circulating in the system to bring electronic health records online across the country. When we have achieved the vision of total EMR (Electronic Medical Records), every person in the U.S. will have a cradle-to-grave record of their medical history, including site of care, diagnosis, treatment, outcome, and payment, and this information will be available at every medical provider in the country. It has been the goal of the federal government to bring about end-to-end electronic health records for several decades, and now Uncle Sam is putting his money where his mouth is.

Economic incentives and disincentives are in place to accelerate the pace of the uptake of IT in doctor’s offices and hospitals throughout the country. If you are one of an estimated 45,000 Medicaid physicians, there is an average of more than $60,000 waiting for you in stimulus funds to help bring your office fully online. If you practice in a rural area, you’ll benefit from billions in telecommunications infrastructure improvements so you can connect to the rest of the system.

The pace of change has been set by the timing of the incentives, which begin in 2011 and end around 2016, depending on the provider, practice setting, and type of IT system. The timing of disincentives is also setting the rate of change, so that Medicare physicians, of whom there are hundreds of thousands, will see their Medicare payments reduced if they aren’t online by their deadline.

For trainers, this means that you have a ready-made market to help healthcare providers and organizations meet these deadlines by providing e-Learning solutions for health IT vendors and their customers. The money is in the pipeline right now to bring electronic health records online throughout the country, which means there has never been a better time to develop and implement training programs so healthcare providers and organizations can qualify for this funding while the incentives are in place and before the disincentives begin.

Leveraging the interest

The administration in Washington has a laser focus on health reform. The details may take years to work out, but changes in our health system are inevitable, especially those related to the uptake of electronic health records. When it comes to a fully implemented, end-to-end, interoperable IT solution for the health system, it is a matter of when – not if.

While the bright light of Washington politics is shining on health reform, it is a great time to create and deploy IT solutions and all the training that they require. We will probably never again encounter a time when the interest in controlling costs, increasing access to care, and improving quality will be in the center of our national agenda as much as today.

Healthcare is one of the booming engines of the economy, and the survival of this sector of the economy is an important part of our national recovery. With healthcare making up close to 18% of our total GDP, and the demographics trending toward more seniors needing more care, the healthcare solutions we create, and the way we implement them, will be vital to our national economy and personal health for many decades to come.

Your training solutions around the uptake of electronic health records, quality initiatives, and payment systems, in addition to the traditional training programs for disease management and medical treatments, will help providers and patients make necessary changes.

Health system change one module at a time

Health system change will happen no matter what comes out of the Washington legislative mill this year. All those changes will require training for many years to come. Experienced e-Learning developers know that they can accomplish a lot of change and education quickly and cheaply with the effective use of technology.

You already know how. Use:

  • Webinars – a great way to deliver synchronous learning without the cost of travel. Exchange opinions and experiences, deliver up-to-date content, and create dialogue with well-managed and informative Web-based seminars. Get peers online for quick hit, high-level dialogue about important changes, or push information down the food chain by getting employees and partners together online.
  • E-Learning modules – Well-designed, Web- or computer-based instruction can deliver critical information to all the learners in an organization in digestible chunks. Audio and visuals including Flash content, video, embedded Podcasts, product and process demonstrations, and measurable, interactive testing make e-Learning far superior to static educational materials. You can make your point strongly, and memorably, by providing interaction with creative content delivered to the learner’s work or home computer. E-Learning module training solutions are easy to deliver, low-cost per use, and you can make it fun, too. Importantly, in the intense world of medical care, busy physicians, pharmacists, and nurses can access Web-based training and information at their convenience.
  • Social networks – Twitter, LinkedIn groups, Second Life worlds, blogs, and similar Web-based social applications all provide instantaneous and virtual experiences that keep learners connected to what is going on – in real-time. Virtual hospitals and medical offices are used for provider training, and to ease the patient experience. Learners can contribute to the content in social exchange environments.

E-Learning techniques are especially friendly to the newest entrants in the workforce, the recent college grads who grew up with the ubiquitous computer. Web-based and interactive content is a quick way to engage their interest, and they are already up the learning curve as contributors. As for the over-50 learners, there are educational funds available to bring them along the technology learning curve so you can deploy e-Learning modalities to everyone.

Professional trainers and content developers, and especially those steeped in the e-Learning culture, are uniquely equipped to provide structured, interactive training to facilitate all the facets of health reform that will require new ways of thinking about medicine, and new ways of achieving quality in a cost effective way. The technological resources are at our disposal to accelerate the pace of health reform, and those who develop and use them can be part of the solution. The quicker, cheaper, more effective solution, that is.