Clinical Application Analyst - A Day in the Life
Electronic health records (EHR) and other clinical software systems are the new industry standard in healthcare. However, plenty of clinics, hospitals, and private practices have yet to make the full migration. That’s where clinical application analysts come in.
Unlike a clinical systems analyst, who focuses heavily on internet technology (IT) architecture, a clinical application analyst (sometimes called a clinical applications specialist) is charged with the selection, implementation, and support of clinical software systems for a particular healthcare network. They act as the bridge between healthcare IT and healthcare practice, shepherding healthcare organizations into the 21st century.
Clinical application analysts typically work on the backend of healthcare organizations. They can work for a single site, like a hospital, or for an entire healthcare network with dozens, or even hundreds, of locations. Whether they spend their time at outpatient clinics, private practices, or urgent care facilities, clinical application analysts focus on the inner workings of the organization and its needs.
In the course of their work, clinical application analysts do not interact with patients, but instead, they consult with clinicians, staff, and healthcare administrators to find out exactly which IT solution is the best fit and how best to integrate it into the existing culture. That said, clinical application analysts rarely have to take on these projects alone as most healthcare organizations employ more than one analyst to work as a team through the entire process.
Clinical Applications Analyst Responsibilities
A clinical application analyst does not so much work on a daily routine as they work in phases. Where the analyst steps in and out, and which phases are necessary to a project, will vary based on the employer and specific terms of a contract. There is often overlap between stages, but they generally take the following shape: evaluation, analysis, implementation, configuration, testing, training, and launch.
During the evaluation stage, the analyst assesses a set of IT vendors based on their ability to meet a healthcare organization’s needs. With a working knowledge of both IT and healthcare management, the analyst can go further than abstraction and sales material so that they can provide informed recommendations to leadership.
The analysis phase is a critical part of the process that assesses a healthcare organization’s workflow, with particular attention to how this interacts with software. This is a period of intense observation where an analyst may document every individual action that makes up a routine work occurrence, such as a patient’s visit to a doctor’s office. Clinical application analysts understand that healthcare is a systems-oriented practice. By monitoring routine events, they can find out where software can help and where it can be an obstacle.
Implementation is perhaps the most tangible stage of a clinical application analyst’s work. This is the process of preparing to move new software into the system. Once the evaluation and workflow analysis is complete and the IT vendor has been selected, it is time to break out the metaphorical measuring tape. Who are the exact users of this software solution, and how do their distinct roles dictate their use of it? Where are the medical workstations, the blood pressure monitors, the scanners, the printers, and can they all be integrated? Which devices can be updated, and which need to be replaced?
Software configuration is another core phase of a clinical application analyst’s job. This is where the software is customized to fit an organization. The analyst sets up user accounts and security measures, optimizes user interfaces for the needs of the organization, and configures typical reports and lab orders based on frequency. This period will vary drastically depending on which software system is implemented; however, it always includes configuring a system to the precise settings of the host organization.
After the software has been implemented and configured, the testing phase begins. Testing can be at the functional level (i.e., if the software functions as it should on its own) or at the integrated level (i.e., if the software functions as it should while interacting with other systems). The testing period is cyclical, with each test possibly yielding the need for new fixes, which must, in turn, be tested both in an isolated and integrated manner.
In conjunction with testing and configuration, clinical application analysts will often help train the user base, either with a team (from the vendor side) or on their own. The training phase consists of working with clinicians and healthcare staff to get them accustomed to the new variations in their workflow. This phase is meant to save clinicians and staff time and energy in the long run, but it can be a point of friction in the short term as it takes a lot of work.
The launch stage is a mix of many phases put together, and, in a way, it is never-ending. There will always be a need for tweaks, adjustments, further training, and customization. As a healthcare organization and its staff and workflows evolve, so must the launched software system. Even after the software is live and functional, clinical application analysts may either stay to provide support, advice, and upgrades to the new system or move onto a new implementation at a new organization, and start the process all over again.
Clinical Applications Analyst Required Skills & Knowledge
Even though they do not interact with patients directly, clinical application analysts create systems that are meant to work in life or death situations. Clinical application analysts have to be dogged, detail-oriented, and disciplined—on-call to solve problems and keenly attuned to the minute operations of the wide-range of features an application contains.
Clinical application analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in a related field at the minimum. As both competition and complexity increase, a master’s program may be necessary for larger and more sophisticated roles. As a baseline, clinical application analysts need solid communication skills, a team-focused work ethic, and IT knowledge.
Most employers look for applicants with some amount of work experience in a clinical setting. What that means is familiarity and working knowledge of relevant technical systems, such as laboratory systems (CoPath, Soft Lab, HCLL Blood Bank), radiology systems, cardiology systems (HeartLab), perioperative systems (Picis), and many others, depending on the organization. As the IT side of healthcare becomes less universal and increasingly proprietary, employers will seek clinical application analysts who have solid understandings of the specific systems.
Clinical Applications Analyst Certification
Certification is not a legal requirement for clinical application analysts, but it is a differentiator. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers certification as a Certified Healthcare Technology Specialist (CHTS). There are six different versions of the CHTS, each tailored to a specific phase of a clinical application analyst’s work:
- Clinician or practitioner consultant (CHTS-CP): These professionals know how to suggest solutions for IT issues, assist in the selection of vendors and software, and advocate for users’ needs.
- Implementation manager (CHTS-IM): These professionals are adept at providing on-site management of support and implementation teams when a healthcare organization is setting up a new system.
- Implementation support specialist (CHTS-IS): These workers support an organization and its users throughout the implementation process.
- Practice workflow redesign specialist (CHTS-PW): These employees help organizations find ways to use their systems most effectively.
- Software support (CHTS-TS): These workers help maintain and update systems in a clinical setting.
- Training (CHTS-TR): These professionals create training programs for IT systems and help implement them within an organization.
Each version of certification may be achieved through an exam that assesses an individual’s competency and proficiency at the evaluation, implementation, and management of healthcare IT systems.
An increasingly popular form of credentialing is provided through a specific IT vendor, such as Epic. Usually an arduous, selective, and expensive process, healthcare organizations may sponsor their in-house clinical application analyst in pursuing such a credential. While these credentials are remarkably specialized and tailored to an individual vendor, they can be a mark of distinction for an organization in need of a specific skill set.
For a more universal (and less intense) approach, clinical application analysts may join a professional society, such as the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a global nonprofit focused on better health through information technology. They have more than 70,000 members in the field and provide professional development, networking, and professional resources for those working at the nexus of healthcare and IT.