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Terry McLeod of ehrSIO ProjectsehrSIO Projects
A blog about the technical and software sides of mental health and addictions

Healthcare Information Technology: HIT's Been Good To Me, Oh Yeah!

Terry McLeod Updated: May 17th 2011

From the title of this, you might expect a Joe Walsh parody piece this week, but no, "Life's Been Good To Me" was a hilarious tune I doubt I can match.

laptop and stethescopeI recently received a note from a fellow asking for some advice about getting into the Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) field. Naturally, I had some advice, and considering high unemployment, I thought others might be looking for the same career path. This fellow was in his late 30's, starting a family, and opening himself up for a ton of work that needs to be tended to quickly. That said, it's not too late to take a couple years to prepare and get started in this business at 40, as long as you pay attention to some of the basics: Building and networking with industry contacts, education, and building an entrepreneur spirit. Also, a background in either general IT or healthcare doesn't hurt. Starting at 40 gives you a career of over 25 years in the field, and few people are retiring at 65 these days; you could do well for yourself following this path.

HIT is exploding, much of the growth directly attributable to ARRA funding and related ultimately to the National Health Record and wider adoption of the Electronic Health Record (EHR), especially in mental health and substance abuse treatment. I think it's a great place to be working.

If you're a consumer who wants to understand yourself better, and you think you could function well in the work environment in which you're seeking help, what better way to do that than immerse yourself hip-deep in the industry?

If you're a professional seeking to get ahead in the industry, what better way than to move into the future now, gaining the knowledge and experience you'll need to become more valuable to the organization you work for (or others!)?

Here are some things to think about:

  • Education: Look into IT security certificates (some colleges offer courses). Sharing health data has to meet quite strict rules involving user security, encryption and such, and it looks Impressive on the resume. If you want to work for a hospital or mental health and addictions treatment organization, some healthcare education & experience is almost always desirable. Look into a nursing program or other professional degree. A Master of Social Work can be a two year program with the only per-requisite being almost any old Bachelor's Degree. Many people go the night school route for this. As you get acquainted in the industry, you'll find programs looking for interns, sometimes paying you to earn the experience required to complete the MSW program. It's a lot of work, and most people resign themselves to a couple years of poverty, with the dedication of an entrepreneur to move forward into this field. The combination of IT and clinical/medical expertise and credentialing is almost too good to be true in this industry.

  • Consulting is a great gig, and I love running my small business, however, you have to wear a lot of hats; I've had to leverage my marketing and advertising experience, my IT experience, my experience working in mental health and addictions treatment environments to grow my business from an idea to a tidy little affair. It's good to network with people in the industry. Reach out to facilities in your community, do some volunteer work, become known in the industry, not just to practitioners, but to management and owners of the organizations you'd like to work for. That's not to say you should give away the farm, just that in order to get a little love, you gotta give a little love. Don't sell them. Help them and get to know them. You can sell others down the line once you're reasonably well known. It takes work, but the combination of education & healthcare experience will build a solid foundation you can build a business on. Seek mentors. Hang out with smart people and hope it rubs off. Get interested in their issues and how these successful people solve them.

  • As a final tip, the hot place to seek HIT work right now is App development for SmartPhones. You don't need a degree (I'm not sure any are available yet!) and as long as you are confident in building a network of industry friends and have adequate selling skills, this could build a nice side business that could grow into something big. Just think outside the box and develop from the user's point of view.

I've been working in HIT for a long time, and it's been good to me...the way to know if it can be as good to you is to take the first an educational program to gain some IT or clinical knowledge, call a mental health or addictions treatment organization and volunteer to get to know the layout of the industry. The important thing is to get started, so get on Google for some numbers and pick up the phone!


Terry McLeod

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are a required part of our society, and improving business workflows with the EHR is imperative for the survival of your local mental health and addictions treatment clinics. Terry McLeod provides the bridge between the mental health and addictions professional and the technical world, as well as the glue to keep it working. Contact McLeod at and get more information from his website and blog,

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