How Georgia has solidified itself as the country's health IT capital

When thinking of centers of health IT activity, images of Silicon Valley, New York City and Verona, Wis., likely come to mind. But perhaps missing from the list of health IT hotspots is the state of Georgia, which deems itself the nation's health IT capital.

The state is home to a number of prominent health IT players, including Carrollton-based Greenway Health, Alpharetta-based McKesson Technology Solutions, Alpharetta-based MedAssets and Alpharetta-based REACH Health. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber, there are more than 200 health IT companies throughout the state.

Not only are the health IT companies numerous, but they represent a variety of perspectives within the industry. For example, the above listing of companies represents software providers, telehealth providers, EHR vendors and business performance solution providers.

"Because of the depth within so many different facets of health IT, we have really risen to the top as the nation's health IT capital," says Amanda Shailendra, director of health sciences and advanced technology in the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

What's more, even companies that aren't headquartered in Georgia are expanding their reach by opening satellite offices and new space to develop a presence in the southeastern corner of the country. One such example is Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth, which operates out of office space in Atlanta's Ponce City Market, a mixed use project space hosting residential units, restaurants and retail in addition to office space.

As companies like athenahealth establish a presence in Georgia, the state's economy has also experienced a significant shift: Over the past seven years, job growth in the health IT industry in Georgia has grown 83 percent, and it is expected to grow 57 percent in the next two years alone. Currently, more than 300,000 Georgians work in health technology companies.

This significant job growth can be attributed to a couple of factors, Ms. Shailendra says.

First, the state's numerous colleges and universities are not only producing a large number of graduates, but they are offering technology or health IT-specific degrees that prepare new graduates for a career in the industry, Ms. Shailendra says, including Georgia State University and Georgia Tech, both in Atlanta, and Georgia Gwinnett College based in Lawrenceville.

Additionally, the variety of schools also provides a more diversified talent pool, Ms. Shailendra says. Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, all based in Atlanta, are historically black colleges. Notable public schools include Emory University and Oglethorpe University, which are also in Atlanta.

"Because Atlanta provides such a fabulous place for that younger population, they end up staying here," Ms. Shailendra says. "It also provides a lower cost of living as opposed to other cities of our size. The students that are coming out of those colleges end up staying here because this is a location that provides so much opportunity."

Another catalyst of the growing IT industry in Georgia comes from the state government. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) launched the High Demand Career Initiative in January 2014 as an economic development program to support training and preparation for careers in high-demand industries, one of which is health IT.

The origins of HIMSS can also be traced back to Georgia. What was then called the Hospital Management Systems Society was founded on Georgia Tech's campus in 1961 where co-founder Harold E. Smalley was a professor.

"The roots are here in Atlanta and Georgia for the industry sector as a whole," Ms. Shailendra says.

Solidifying its presence as the nation's health IT capital, Georgia will have the only state-level presence at the HIMSS15 Conference to be held next week in Chicago from April 12-16. The state will have a pavilion on the exhibit floor, where seven other private companies and three nonprofit organizations will hold physical booth space. The state is also partnering with the Georgia HIMSS chapter to host a reception in the pavilion.

The companies and organizations that will be present in the Georgia pavilion at HIMSS are SysorMed, GA Partnership for Telehealth, Complete.MD, Patientco, iPaT, QTS, Georgia HIMSS, Carematics, PREMEDEX and Gozio.

The state's booth will be in the South Hall at Booth 3639.

More articles on health IT:

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Practice Fusion plants prescription coupons in EHRs
John Hancock's healthy behavior data collection concerns privacy advocates

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