Understanding Health Informatics Core Competencies - Part 3
By Hank Fanberg MBA, CPME, FHIMSS, Instructor, Digital Health and Informatics, the University of New Orleans; a HIMSS TIGER Member
Look at any position open announcement and you’ll find a section with the header of “qualifications,” “desired skills, knowledge and abilities,” or something similar. This is how an employer informs applicants of the skills and knowledge necessary to perform the responsibilities of the position. These are the competencies the employer seeks in individuals that apply for the job.
As noted above, a competency is the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills and abilities required to successfully perform critical work functions or tasks in a defined work setting. Competencies often serve as the basis for skill standards that specify the level of knowledge, skills and abilities required for success in the workplace, as well as potential measurement criteria for assessing competency attainment.
Just as companies seek to employ persons with skills and competencies in a given area, educators are also concerned with competencies. An educational institution would define competencies as “a general statement detailing the desired knowledge and skills of student graduating from a course or program.”
Is education strictly for intellectual development or to prep people for the workforce? One goal of education is to produce citizens who can think critically and have knowledge. A competent critical thinker may be necessary yet insufficient for being competent at work. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is important. It is possible to learn many things and become well educated. This may not, however, readily translate into workplace competencies.
Demonstrating competency is not simply performing well on tests and other knowledge evaluation activities. It’s rooting out the core areas of knowledge a student must demonstrate for mastery, that they understand the material, have studied and applied the content to certain situations or learnings and that they have mastered the material and can now be called competent. These two forces—the competency needs of employers and the competency content of an educational course of study—should overlap, but they are different.
A competency demonstrates proficiency. Competency denotes “having the knowledge, skills and ability to perform or do a specific task, act or job (Mastrian & McGonagle, 13). Informatics competency would be the knowledge, skills and ability to perform specific informatics tasks. A number of national and international groups work to identify core informatics competencies. Competencies are not just a one-time thing. They are continually evaluated in the field and by educators. Each sector has its version of competencies and include:
- Academic competencies
- Industry-wide competencies
- Management competencies
- Personal effectiveness competencies
- Workplace competencies
We can see that academic/educational competencies are separate from workplace competencies. Yet the two must work in tandem, each informing the other so that education enables competencies when one transitions from education to the workforce. They form a feedback loop and as innovative processes and advances are adopted in the work environment; the academic arena must adapt its competency model to fulfill the ever-changing competency needs of employers. This is absolutely true for health informatics. They are yin and yang; one cannot do without the other.
A Multidisciplinary Field
Informatics uses data to solve all manner of problems—little problems such as the best way to stack items in a truck to bigger issues like tracking COVID-19 to see who has been exposed and who has not. The common element is data—its collection, its aggregation and its sorting into meaningful, useful information.
This multidisciplinary field exists at the intersection of healthcare, information science, computer science and technology. Health Informatics is "the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning. It also involves using health information systems in collecting, storing, retrieving, analyzing and utilizing healthcare information for a variety of purposes. It requires that the health informaticist be proficient in the language of health and healthcare, health IT tools and standards, systems design, project management, human factors and perhaps most importantly, collaboration with all the medical professionals, administrators and others that rely upon health information and technology in performing their duties and responsibilities. Critical thinking and communication skills are just as important as the other skills for the health informaticist. The health informaticist focuses on the end users and tailoring systems to satisfy their needs.
Before the computer era, medical science relied upon the basic sciences and the bench scientists—biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and others—to advance knowledge. The addition of computer science and data science to the practice of medicine gave the healer clinical decision-support tools new ways to record their patient interactions, and provide on-demand access to their professional body of knowledge. Researchers had access to data faster and more accurately than ever before.
The Health Information Technology Advisory Committee Act within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided funding for doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic medical records in the U.S. Recently we’ve seen more than 85% of physicians and more than 95% of hospitals use an EMR.
Now we have the tools to better support practitioners’ responsibilities such as finding all the diabetic patients in the practice who have not had an A1C test in the past three months versus having to search through paper records until they found those patients. This one simple example demonstrates how informatics impacts the quality and outcomes of medicine. And it is the health informaticist who plays a critical role in the design, delivery and experience of the end user.
As computational power and capability continues to grow, and as the collection, assemblage and analysis of data becomes more necessary, the world of health informatics opens up, and its needs from the workplace then form a feedback loop with education.
Demand for Health Informaticists
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, health informatics will experience a 22% job growth between 2012 and 2022. The salary for these positions exceeds $100,000. Variety and opportunity are vast for those interested in pursuing a career in the field. Keep in mind that many of these jobs require skills from different disciplines. Many of these positions remain open longer than the average meaning that opportunities abound for the well prepared.
Health Informatics Branches
The field has many branches. There are multiple paths to follow, including that of data scientist (although data science is considered a related and overlapping discipline). The need for competent health informaticists and data scientists is growing exponentially. Additionally, the amount of data produced by the healthcare industry is expected to grow exponentially, creating opportunities aplenty in the following areas and others:
- Clinical Informatics
- Consumer Health Informatics
- Nursing Informatics
- Pharmacy Informatics
- Public Health Informatics
1. Clinical Informatics
Professionals working in clinical informatics use data to support clinical decision making. A clinical informaticist may serve in a multitude of roles, depending on the size of the healthcare setting.
2. Consumer Health Informatics
Consumer health informatics roles involve protecting consumer health.
3. Nursing Informatics
The American Nurses Association defines the position as overseeing the integration of data, information and knowledge to support decision-making by patients and their healthcare providers. Nurses with technological skills may want to consider looking for a job in this field. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track nurse informaticists specifically, the demand for computer systems analysts—a role with comparable skills—is expected to grow faster than other occupations over the next few years.
4. Pharmacy Informatics
Pharmacy informatics involves using data in the process of supplying medication. Demand for pharmacy informatics is growing rapidly due to the wide spread use of electronic prescribing and EMRs.
5. Public Health Informatics
Public health informaticists concern themselves with the health of populations. Some people in this field prepare for threats such as antibiotic resistant infections and biological attacks. Public health informatics jobs are found in hospitals, government agencies or private businesses.
Healthcare has always been data driven. As more and more data are created the need for health informaticists with the mix of proficiencies in communication, computer science and clinical capabilities will be in great demand for years to come. Using data and computer systems has the huge potential for improving quality, improving the user experience and lowering costs and is one of the few areas in healthcare where providers, insurers and policymakers of both parties agree. This is also one of the areas of consistent job growth. The opportunities are there. Now go after those proficiencies.
The views and opinions expressed in this content or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
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