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By Scott Scanlon

Refresh Editor

The massive overhaul of the health system that will pick up steam in coming months has not escaped the notice of Michael J. Pardales, dean of the School of Education and Human Services at Canisius College.

Pardales, 44, a Detroit native, came to Canisius three years ago to become a key member of the college administrative team. He has worked closely with health-related faculty in recent months to create a new online master's program in Health Information Technology. He, his wife and three children live next to the Canisius campus.

“I've found Western New York to be a lovely area, a very comfortable place to live,” Pardales said, “not unlike the metro Detroit area in many ways, but a little more friendly and a little more easy to get around.”

Pardales has bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy from Michigan State University, as well as a doctorate in educational psychology from the school. Before he came to Buffalo he was chairman of the Education Department at the University of Michigan, Flint campus.

While the thought of health record-keeping might put some to sleep, those looking for more secure jobs will want to take note: It's estimated that more than 50,000 trained health IT professionals will be needed to support the health care system that will be created as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Q. Talk a little about your department.

A. We have programs here in all sorts of teacher education and counseling. We have a lot of graduate programs, as well. We're anxiously awaiting approval of our first doctoral program, which is going to be in counseling education and supervision. One of the more newly growing areas in the School of Education is our health and wellness area. We have a Department of Professional Studies which has programs in applied nutrition, community and school health, respiratory care. The Health Information Technology program is one of the newer programs, and we just received state approval for a master's in nursing that we hope will begin soon. We are trying to grow and expand our health-care offerings, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels in response to the changing economy

How did the idea for this program materialize?

Over the last five years, we've been trying to grow and develop a portfolio of health-care programs, understanding that within the next five years 20 percent of the American GDP is going to be connected to health care. There's going to be a tremendous amount of job opportunities for people related to health care, not only in Western New York but in the region and the country. The next program online, we felt, was the most critical and timely was health information technology because our understanding that the electronics that support the evolving health-care system are going to become more and more critical to how health-care professionals function: How doctors work, how hospitals work, how administrators in health care work. It's going to require people with special training, who understand systems, administration, who understand health care in ways that really benefit patients, doctors, nurses, everybody who works in the system.

Q. How did you get this up and running?

A. We looked at what some other programs in the field looked like. We have friends of the college, people who teach in some of our other health care programs, and we started a conversation with them about what this program would look like. One person in particular, Dr. Arvela Heider, who is going to be the director of the program, is a native Western New Yorker with extensive experience in health IT. She's been working in this field for the better part of a decade, grant writing, working with hospitals. She does her own consulting work.

Q. Who might be interested in pursing this degree?

A. People who come from the health care industry. They may not be health IT professionals, but likely they've used plenty of it. They may be administrators, people who work in the back office or front office, systems people who work in a hospital. They could work for an insurance company. They could be nurses, aides and people who work directly with patients. Then there's another audience, which is people who have primarily computer information technology skills but don't have a background in health care. There's even possibly a third group of people, business and finance people or health administrators, people who run hospitals.

Medicine has been a field largely run by paper. The whole introduction of information technology in such a major way is relatively new, so it's going to take people with some specialized skills who understand how to bridge that world. Everything is going to be connected to the data that you keep and hospitals and doctors are going to eventually going to be held accountable for their data, in terms of how their patients are doing. Are they getting healthier? Are fewer medical errors being made? The health care information technology is going to be the thing that helps them keep track of all of this stuff. We think there's going to be a big role to play in supporting that.

Q. How many faculty members are going to be involved?

A. At the outset, we will have a director and, because of the nature of this kind of work, it's important to have people with a varied set of skills, so we will use several professional faculty members who are teaching with us part time.

Q. How many students are you going to take and what will they need to get the master's?

A. We'd like to start the first cohort with 10 to 15 students. Most of these folks we expect to be working professionals, so they'll go part time. They'll need to have a bachelor's degree. Master's degree is 35 credits and the courses are all three credits and there is a culminating master's project, where students will be asked to apply their projects in a work setting.

Q. Why is computerized medical record-keeping so important these days in health care?

A. I think you can begin and end with patients. It's about patient care. Can you improve patient care and outcomes through your data management and record-keeping? I think the answer has to be yes, and it's going to be demanded that it be yes, by the federal government and by states. People are going to say, 'If people aren't getting better, and you can't show us that people are getting better, then something's wrong with your system.' And the way we manage data, and are able to prove that and show outcomes is going to be the source of the accountability.

A. The first thing would be to contact our Office of Admissions (www.canisius.edu/admissions). There's still plenty of time for people to start the process.

email: refresh@buffnews.com