Associate Administrator of the Bureau of Health Professions, Health Resources and Services Administration
By Laura Trude, HWIC Information Specialist
To address the lack of consistent quality data on the health workforce across states and professions, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Bureau of Health Professions (BHPr) plans to expand its health workforce data collection and analysis activities. One of their major goals is to create a uniform health professions data system that would include a standard set of data on health care professionals and which would be available for research and policy analysis. The system would include demographics, education and training data, and practice information. HRSA is currently seeking collaborative partners to help them plan and implement the system as well as engage in related activities. Dr. Heinrich, who became head of HRSA’s Bureau of Health Professions in February of this year, spoke about the Bureau’s new workforce activities and goals.
Where is the Bureau of Health Professions in its plans to expand health workforce data collection and analysis?
We’re currently in the planning stages. We had an excellent meeting in mid-December with an expert panel that provided recommendations about how we could potentially proceed in rebuilding the Bureau’s workforce analysis capabilities. Now Roger Straw [director of the BHPr Office of Workforce Policy and Performance Management] and other staff of the Bureau are developing a plan to share with Dr. Mary Wakefield, the new Administrator of HRSA, on how to proceed over the next several years.
What is the current timeline for the program?
We’re still developing that, but clearly we plan to begin convening groups that can give us further advice. For example, we plan to work with nursing, nurse education, and nurse licensing organizations that are already collecting nursing workforce data to discuss ways to consolidate efforts and efficiently produce a minimum set of data on the nursing profession. We are planning similar activities with physicians’ groups as well. Other professions will follow as time and resources permit. We will use these discussions to understand what the priorities are within these groups as we think about building a minimum dataset for each of the disciplines.
Our next step will be to present a plan with timelines to Dr. Wakefield so that we can gain her input, since this is a priority of hers. Then we will be ready to really provide the overall plan to the general public. For example, we will be releasing the preliminary findings from the Nursing Sample Survey in the month of March. Later in the summer, we will be releasing an updated physician supply and demand model. We also will be doing presentations to various groups that are interested in workforce analyses about some of the options and recommendations that came from the expert panel that we held in December.
What goals is the Bureau of Health Professions hoping to accomplish with this work? Why is the Bureau expanding its health workforce data collection and analysis now?
Clearly there is renewed interest in what we know about the health care workforce in relation to health care reform. Within both the House and Senate versions of health care reform, there was a call for greater workforce analysis. For example, one of the questions is, with greater access to primary health care by people who previously did not have health insurance, how will we be able to meet the increased demand for primary care workforce? We need to be able to answer those kinds of questions. It’s clear that HRSA has a major role to play in being able to provide the data that’s needed for health care workforce planning. It’s also clear that we need to forge stronger collaborative efforts with other entities within the federal system that collect data on the health care workforce, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What challenges do you foresee?
I think that one of the major challenges always with any kind of data collection effort is that the data is never perfect. For example, we would really like to be able to build on the data that is collected by the professional licensing boards in each state. We know that some people have been able to use that data successfully, but we also know that data source is not always complete and there is a great deal of variation by state. On the other hand, we know that it’s a really good place to start. One of the challenges will be to overcome the “my data” phenomenon. Some groups, I think, have pride and ownership of these data sources, so currently there may be some limitations to access that data. It is important that policy-makers have access to the best available information and we have to assure that there is access to the best data sources.
Which health professions will the uniform health workforce data reporting system include?
That’s a very interesting question. With our limited resources, we’ll start with major professional groups and see how we manage that. But we haven’t ruled out any groups.
Who will be reporting data to the uniform health workforce data reporting system?
That’s where this notion of a collaborative model comes in: we want to work with a variety of groups, each of whom has access to parts of an overall data set. For example, associations of schools have good access to data on individuals in training. Licensing boards have access to information on who is actively engaged in practice. No single organization is going to have access to all of the needed information. We see an important role for HRSA in helping these organizations find ways to work together and produce a high quality set of data on their stakeholders. We believe that HRSA is in a good position to serve as a “trusted broker” in assuring that all with legitimate needs to use the data, can access it.
You mentioned earlier that you would like to build on information the state licensing boards already have; do you see that as something where they might, for example, be required to administer surveys as part of the license renewal and then report that data to the uniform data reporting system?
We are still very early in our discussions and it is likely that one approach won’t work for all professions and states. However, we are convinced that licensing boards have an important role to play in developing a minimum set of workforce data and some of them have already included practice questions in their license renewal applications.
Is the Bureau of Health Professions planning on reestablishing some competitive grant programs for health workforce research, such as grants for individual policy-driven analytic studies, or for health workforce research centers? If so, do you have a timeline for when these grants will become available?
We are definitely considering reestablishing grant programs for health workforce research. At this point, we don’t have a specific date, but clearly it would need to happen soon if we want to be able to fund an initial round before the end of fiscal year 2010.
What else would you like to highlight about the new health workforce data collection and analysis work HRSA’s Bureau of Health Professions is planning?
I think it’s important to let the health care workforce community know that we do plan to move forward with a uniform health workforce data system and that there will be lots of opportunities for groups to provide their input to us on how the system could work.
Please note that the views expressed in this article are the opinions of the interviewee and do not reflect the official policies, positions, or opinions of the Health Workforce Information Center or its funder.