USF prepares to hire workers for electronic medical records initiative

By Letitia Stein, symptoms Times Staff Writer (

University of South Florida leaders said Tuesday they are ready to use $6 million from the federal stimulus bill to hire “e-ambassadors” to help doctors convert to using electronic medical records.

Within about three months, USF hopes to make the first of about 100 hires for its PaperFree Florida initiative to modernize daily medical practice.

“It’s not about the hardware and the software,” said Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF medical school. “It’s about changing the DNA of health care.”

The federal government is pushing doctors to replace paper charts and prescription pads with electronic records to reduce medical errors and unnecessary testing. But the transition can be difficult for physicians, especially those in solo or small practices.

To assist, the university will train workers to serve doctors much like agricultural extension agents help farmers. These e-ambassadors would educate health professionals about electronic record-keeping systems and aid them in adopting and using the technology.

“We’re not sending out salespeople,” said Jay Wolfson, a USF public health professor who is the project’s director. “We’re sending out a force of extension agents who will be available to clinicians.”

About 1,000 physicians already have expressed interest, he said.

The effort will cover 20 rural and urban counties, including all of the Tampa Bay region. The university is working with community colleges on a training program. Organizers expect to draw job candidates from health-related fields and beyond.

Wolfson said that jobs should pay $40,000 to $50,000. USF hopes to partner with medical groups to develop a model that can continue after the federal grant ends.

“It’s going to save lives,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who helped secure the funds. “It’s going to save money, since we can squeeze a lot of efficiencies out of the health care system.”

Letitia Stein can be reached at or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit