The Manchester Bidwell Corporation received a grant in October from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to support a new training program at the Bidwell Training Center.

The $36,000 grant will go to the purchase of an electronic medical record system that students will use in the Electronic Record Medical Assistant program, said Manchester Bidwell Spokesperson Erik Rueter.

The program started this year and replaces a health unit coordinator program that Rueter said was no longer in high demand. The ERMA program, he said, meets a growing need for medical assistants who can not only do things like take blood pressure, but who are proficient in using and creating electronic medical records.

“We have really high hopes that the placement rate will be stellar,” Rueter said.

Bidwell Training Center Director of Medical Technologies Connie George said Bidwell developed the program with industry input to ensure its graduates would fill a need in the job market.

According to a Highmark press release, the need for medical assistants versed in electronic health records will grow 34 percent from 2008 to 2018.

Highmark Spokesperson Adrienne Londino said the higher-than-average expected growth in that job market was one of the chief reasons Highmark chose Bidwell for the grant.

The ERMA program’s first students began the 10-month diploma program in March, and will begin their four-week externship in November, George said.

The idea of electronic health records is that a doctor in any part of the country can access a patient’s complete medical history. George said there are thousands of electronic health record systems right now, but most of them are similar.

Because of the programs’ similarity, George said ERMA graduates should be able to adapt to most of them easily, and will be able to help others use the software.

Some of the benefits of electronic health records are eliminating duplicate medical tests, minimizing prescription errors, making medical records and those working them more efficient and cost-effective and standardizing medical care.

George added that many people bring up safety concerns with electronic records, but pointed out that paper records aren’t secured in many cases, and are kept in unlocked filing cabinets or on shelves in offices.

“It’s going to be no less secure than anything else we use in our technologically advanced society,” she said.