Health Informatics "Hiring Spree": Demand for Health Informatics Workers Grows

One the overriding themes of the HIMSS conference was the lack of qualified health informatics personnel to cope with the recent increase in demand from new health informatics projects.

Now Price Waterhouse Coopers are reporting some results of a survey of healthcare organisations due to be published later this month. According to the press release, the survey found that:

  • "Seventy percent of health insurers, 48 percent of hospitals and 39 percent of pharmaceutical / life sciences companies plan to increase hiring of technical informatics professionals over the next two years."
  • "Four in ten hospital and provider respondents surveyed said that lack of skilled informatics staff is a barrier to developing a comprehensive clinical informatics program."
  • "Half of hospitals and physician respondents said that misalignment of clinical and technology teams is an organizational barrier, something they will need to address to incorporate sophisticated analytics into clinicians’ everyday work."

So, where are these qualified and experienced personnel going to come from? Unfortunately, the experience part can't be rushed. People are going to get their experience as they work. What can be done, and is underway, is to increase the funding (provided by the HITECH stimulus package) for undergraduate and certificate courses in health informatics. We have a list of these courses in our Health Informatics Degrees and Certificates resource collection (and we're constantly adding to it as new courses come online).

In my view, however, the main source of new health informatics personel will be from the existing nursing workforce. Whether they continue as practicing nurses, or shift gears into a full-time health informatics role, nurses will be the key to getting new EHR projects off the ground successfully. The health informatics research shows again and again that clinical buy-in is the key factor in successful implementations. Nurses have the skills to ensure that the systems align with clinical needs and can effectively communicate this with the clinical staff in the hospital.

Medical and nursing education programmes now need to focus on ensuring that health informatics is a key aspect of their training - with the knowledge that a large proportion of the nursing workforce (and a smaller proportion of the medical workforce) will end up with key health informatics roles.

We've had lots of discussion on the Health Informatics Forum about how nurses can transition into clinical informatics roles including discussions ranging from what the average nursing informatics salary really is to whether or not nurses should go for certificate or masters health informatics degrees.

Judging from the quantity and variety of questions posted, there is a real need for more education about health informatics career options. Hopefully we can help provide some answers on our forum, but the nursing and medical professional organisations need to continue to take health informatics seriously if they are going to serve their members and help the healthcare system transition into the digital age.

The initiative to create a new Board Certified Specialty in Clinical Informatics is a positive move from the medical profession. AMIA played a key role in the creation of this specialty and should be applauded for their efforts. However, Health Informatics needs to be a multi-disciplinary specialty (as AMIA has become a multi-disciplinary organisation) and clinical qualifications should be available to all clinicians including nurses, pharmacists and other allied health professionals.

What do you see as being the main barriers to creating a high quality health informatics workforce? Is the funding going to the right places? Do nurses and doctors have the skills needed to implement health informatics projects?

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Comment by Abdulfatah Ali on August 26, 2012 at 11:01pm

I have a BS in Clinical Laboratory Science and Just Finished My Master's in Health Informatics at St. Louis University.  I have been applying for jobs but its seems like this Master's of Health Informatics is not what employers are looking for. they are looking for someone with computer programming and database management experience.

So my question to the hospitals is, then why not just hire computer science individuals.

I feel like this was one waste of money and worthless degree as employment with it is almost impossible without going back to school and getting computer science degree on top of it.

Your opinions are welcome.

Comment by Allen McLean on August 2, 2012 at 10:17am

Hello Chris, thank you for taking the time to post this article and add your thoughtful comments. I am an RN in my final year of a double Master's degree program at the University of Victoria (Canada) I thought other nurses interested in Informatics might want to check out. It is a heavy courseload, but after 2.5 years and a thesis we end up with a MN (Nursing) and an MSc (Health Information Science). The program also includes 2 mandatory coop experiences, 4 months each. You must be an RN to enter the program and it is fairly restrictive, only 6 students per year because of faculty shortages.

The program is a great mix of technical and clinical education because the two school's focus on very different aspects of the career. My biggest "problem" now is deciding whether to go right into industry with my Master's degrees or carrying on into the PhD.

Comment by Abbas Shojaee on April 2, 2012 at 11:00am

I found that there are two serious problems regarding the quality of healthcare informatics experts in most of areas:

1- Biomedical/Health Informatics literature and standards already got huge. Naturally to deal with it at academic and practical aspects two type of experts are formed correspondingly.
1.1- The academic Health Informatics faculty who are deep in theoretical foundations, abreast on studies but lagged on deep technological and practical aspects, which are very important in success of fail of projects. (Shortcoming in hands on experience)

1.2 The Health Informatics professionals (Software architect, developers, analysts, program managers etc.) usually are lagged off of heavy developing literature of concepts, standards best practices which are crucial to create a surviving solution.

2- Health Informatics and/or BioMedical Informatics has roots in,at least, 4 diverse disciplines (Information Technology, Health or Medicine, Medical Documentary, Software Engineering). Most of the students, graduate and post graduates, usually bear serious knowledge deficit in one or two of those.

I agree Bob, that we need more healthcare professionals to acquire enough mastership in Informatics, and I'd like adding that we need more Software professionals to acquire enough mastership in Healthcare/ Biomedicine.

By enough mastership I mean, having deep applicable knowledge in that field and not just a superficial touch and few terminologies. This is what just few universities provide around the world.

I think that the challenge of salary for better experts will be solved as a result of industry awareness because of painful failing projects, but to have better experts new arrangement in term of elongated and enhanced curriculum are needed, accompanied by real projects apprenticeship.

Comment by Ken Masters on March 21, 2012 at 8:30pm

I was searching on a different topic and stumbled up this 2006 article "Who are the Informaticians? What We Know and Should Know"  (freely accessible in pdf) at:

http://171.67.114.118/content/13/2/166.full.pdf+html

Comment by Kate Handziuk on March 9, 2012 at 6:58am

Hi Chris.  I was at HIMSS as well and that message comes out clearly.  I have also linked the Price Waterhouse Coopers article on our website. http://medicine.utah.edu/bmi/academics_education/Frequently-asked-q...

As well, the University of Utah is developing a Clinical Informatics Sub-specialty training program in response to the recently approved Board certification of the specialty.  

Comment by Elizabeth Hillier on March 6, 2012 at 1:04pm
I am a nurse currently pursuing a BSN and working as a Clinical Applications Supervisor. I am thinking about a Masters in Informatics so it is good to know that there will be jobs.
Comment by Chris Paton on March 3, 2012 at 11:10pm

Thanks for the comment Bob. I agree with your points whole-heartedly. I think we also need some leadership from vendors and the hospitals on what roles they see for non-clinical health informatics graduates. There must be a wide range of opportunities coming up, but most often the adverts just want clinical informaticists or are silent on specific HI qualifications - i.e. they just want particularly tech skills or experience with certain software applications.

Comment by Bob Hoyt on March 3, 2012 at 1:48pm

Great post Chris. I agree that nurses by sheer number, temperament, experience and salary are the most likely healthcare workers to fill new informatics positions. Unfortunately, most of our informatics graduate students are not nurses or physicians and have no clinical skills. We educators need to modify our academic programs: 1. Be sure our approach is pragmatic and not theoretical 2. Try to find clinicians (early adopters/super-users) to help teach informatics and not rely solely on academic types for everything 3. Solicit input from local IT vendors and hospital IT departments to see what jobs are open and what skill sets are needed 4. Add internships to certificate and Master's programs. This provides real world experiences and gives both the student and the potential employer a glimpse of what to expect.

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