Becoming a Health Informatics Specialist - Duties & Certifications

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The healthcare industry is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the data revolution. This is a field that’s always run on data, from a patient’s heart rate to a hospital’s number of available beds. But the increasing influx of nuanced and accurate data promises to drastically improve patient outcomes as well as the efficiency of healthcare organizations. In order to make good on that promise, an entire profession has formed around capturing, storing, securing, and wielding healthcare data. That profession is health informatics.

Health informatics specialists focus on the union of healthcare and IT. That can involve creating or managing tools for patient billing, scheduling, and compliance. It can also involve the use and administration of electronic health records (EHRs), or the implementation of new technology around diagnostic procedures or predictive treatment options.

In today’s healthcare organization, practically everything is connected to data and IT, giving health informatics specialists a broad but crucial role to play. That’s one of the reasons they enjoy a high salary: according to PayScale (2020), the top 10 percent of health informatics specialists earn over $103,000 per year.

For a relatively new profession, the role of the health informatics specialist is changing fast. Evolving IT options are streamlining the healthcare process, and data transfers are approaching real-time. The internet of things (IoT), personal fitness trackers, and secure cloud-based data storage are continuing to revolutionize the healthcare industry—and healthcare informatics specialists are on the front lines.

To get a look at a day in the life of a health informatics specialist, read on.

Work Environment of Health Informatics Specialists

Health informatics specialists can work wherever data and healthcare operate in tandem, making for a wide range of possible work environments. As EHRs have become federally mandated, healthcare organizations of all stripes will need to employ health informatics specialists to manage them. Health informatics specialists can be utilized in clinical and non-clinical settings and may be employed by hospitals, group practices, surgical centers, consulting firms, private companies, or government agencies.

Typical Daily Responsibilities of Health Informatics Specialists

The daily responsibilities of a health informatics specialist will be largely guided by the setting in which they work. The needs of a hospital implementing a new EHR system, for example, will be different than a government agency scanning data for public health insights. But despite the broad range of duties a health informatics specialist may be charged with, some similarities do carry over across most positions.

Some typical daily responsibilities of health informatics specialists include:

  • Tracking, storing, and accessing patient records
  • Developing and implementing new methods of managing patient data
  • Analyzing health data for insights related to policy development
  • Managing and securing existing health information databases
  • Collaborating between regulatory and IT departments
  • Consulting with upper leadership on data-driven strategies

The growing involvement of IT-related tasks at a modern healthcare organization is increasingly the domain of health informatics specialists. As such, a health informatics specialist may be called on to perform a wide range of duties within a single organization. To meet that need requires a solid base of fundamental skills and knowledge in IT, healthcare, data management, and strategic planning.

Required Skills & Knowledge of Health Informatics Specialists

As a career at the intersection of healthcare and IT, it’s rare for an undergraduate program to provide all the skills and knowledge necessary to perform the role of a health informatics specialist. So while it may be possible to enter this profession with a bachelor’s degree, an increasing number of employers are hiring health informatics specialists who have graduate-level education.

A master’s of healthcare administration (MHA) can offer graduates an expert-level understanding of healthcare processes, and a further specialization in healthcare informatics can supply the necessary background knowledge in IT and data management.

That said, there’s no singular path to becoming a health informatics specialist: one may have an undergraduate degree in IT and an MHA, while another may have an undergraduate degree in healthcare administration and certificate-level training in data management. Others, still, may transition from direct-care professions by pursuing a master’s degree in health informatics.

In addition to domain-specific knowledge, health informatics specialists will need strong skill sets in project management, data management, strategic planning, and communication. Especially as they move up the organizational ladder into administrative and management positions, forms of continuing education and professional certification may be useful for distinguishing themselves as experts in their field.

Certification for Health Information Specialists

While it’s not a legal requirement, professional certification is a valuable option for health informatics specialists who wish to demonstrate their proficiency at the skills and knowledge necessary to perform their role at a high level. These forms of certification also connect a health informatics specialist with a broader professional network and avenues of continuing education. Health informatics specialists with professional certifications are increasingly sought after by employers and may garner a higher salary than their non-credentialed counterparts.

Professional certification for health informatics specialists is primarily offered through two entities: the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Certifications

HIMSS offers two certifications for health informatics specialists:

  • Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS)
  • Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS)

The CAHIMS credential is for entry-level specialists who wish to demonstrate their professional knowledge and establish a solid foundation in their abilities. Applicants will need only a high school diploma and 45 hours of continuing education in healthcare informatics.

Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a two-hour, 115-question multiple-choice exam that covers information recall, application, and analysis. Exam fees are $240 for HIMSS members and $315 for non-members. The credential must be renewed every three years through the completion of 45 continuing education credits, 25 of which must be obtained through HIMSS.

The CPHIMS credential is for experienced health informatics specialists who wish to advance their careers and demonstrate a commitment to continuing professional development. Applicants will need either a bachelor’s degree and five years of information and management experience (three of which occurred in a healthcare setting), or a graduate degree and three years of information management experience (two of which occurred in a healthcare setting).

Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a two-hour, 115-question multiple-choice exam that covers information recall, application, and analysis. Exam fees are $405 for HIMSS members and $525 for non-members. The credential must be renewed every three years through the completion of 45 continuing education credits, 25 of which must be obtained through HIMSS.

American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) Certifications

AHIMA offers two certifications for health informatics specialists:

  • Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT)
  • Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA)

The RHIT credential is for IT-focused health informatics specialists. Applicants will need a bachelor’s degree from a health information management (HIM) program at an accredited university.

Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a 3.5-hour exam that covers six domains: data content, structure, and information governance; access, disclosure, privacy, and security; data analytics and use; revenue cycle management; compliance; and leadership. Exam fees are $229 for AHIMA members and $299 for non-members. Those who earn the RHIT credential must recertify every two years through the completion of 20 continuing education units.

The RHIA credential is for administrative-focused health informatics specialists. Applicants will need either to hold an RHIA credential or to have graduated from a health information management (HIM) program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM).

Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a four-hour exam that covers five domains: information governance; compliance with uses and disclosures of PHI; data analytics and informatics; revenue management; and management and leadership. Exam fees are $229 for AHIMA members and $299 for non-members. Those who earn the RHIA credential must recertify every two years through the completion of 30 continuing education units.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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