The occupation of clinical information systems specialist frequently demands the fusion of skillsets from three different fields:
- Information technology (IT)
- Business management
All of these are growing industries, and demand for workers in these niches is trending up for a variety of reasons. Now is a fantastic time to embark on a career in this multi-faceted specialization.
In the recent past, the US Federal government has been pushing healthcare providers to switch from paper to electronic record keeping. Under former President Barack Obama, the US government allocated $49 billion to implement the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that related specifically to health information technology. Overall, the legislation allocated hundreds of billions of dollars worth of federal spending, directing this wealth at programs that would implement their goals for the US healthcare sector.
This legislation resulted in massive opportunities for professionals with expertise in clinical information systems. IT experience benefits healthcare professionals at many levels, ranging from entry-level to upper management. In some cases, clinical information systems specialists are entry-level employees. In other cases, they are senior-level health information managers who are entrusted with the responsibility for their hiring facility's entire information system.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical managers and health administrators earned median annual salaries of $96,540 in 2016. At this time, the BLS does not track salary information for clinical information systems specialists separately, but they do include health information managers in this group; analysts at the BLS noted that some of the best job opportunities in this niche are for health information managers with significant healthcare-specific IT experience.
According to career website Payscale.com, clinical informatics specialists earn average salaries in the neighborhood of $76,000 per year.
A clinical information specialist entering the field with less than five years of experience could realistically expect to earn an annual salary in the range of $30,000 – $65,000. Salaries for this specialization can vary widely based on geographic location, with clinical information systems specialists in Boston, Chicago and New York earning the highest paychecks on average in this field.
Clinical information systems specialists typically focus on the organization and management of medical records. In some cases, these professionals may be tasked with designing and building the entire systems their hiring organizations use for maintaining their patients' records. In other cases, they might be responsible for configuring existing software according to their employers' needs, possibly customizing the user interface to make it intuitive for their colleagues to use.
Clinical informatics specialists are often responsible for training healthcare staff to use the facility's information systems accurately. In large organizations, there may be senior-level informatics specialists who are tasked with managing sizable numbers of health information technologists and medical coders. These are the workers who enter patients' medical records into the required registries and databases.
Clinical information specialists must be detail-oriented people with significant computer expertise. Some employers prefer to hire specialists who have experience using specific software products such as MyChart by Epic Systems, a software provider whose solutions are popular with clinics, hospitals, children's organizations, rehab centers, academic medical facilities, hospice care providers and independent nursing practices. Project management skills are highly desirable in this field and can lead to higher paychecks. Some employers require expertise with data analysis.
Degree and Education Requirements
You will need at least a bachelor's degree to obtain entry-level work in computer informatics. If you know from the outset that this is the career you want to pursue, it's best to earn your degree in health information management or healthcare administration. Make sure your degree program includes coursework in IT, health information systems, budgeting, accounting, human resources, law and health economics. A variety of math, spreadsheet and computing skills will be useful to you.
If you have the resources to pursue a master's degree, you'll be much better positioned to compete for the best jobs available in clinical information systems.
Rewards and Challenges of Being a Clinical Information Systems Specialist
Like any job, the role of clinical information systems specialist has both its pluses and minuses.
Rewards — Clinical information systems specialists enjoy comfortable salaries and a high level of job satisfaction. They find it rewarding to solve problems and help others in a supportive capacity.
Challenges — Many clinical informatics specialists find that their greatest challenge is keeping up with the technological and legislative changes that cause constant evolution in their job descriptions. Some clinical informatics specialists struggle with allocation of limited resources.
Since computer information specialists spend significant amounts of time working at their computers, they are vulnerable to conditions that affect many computer users including eye strain and repetitive stress injuries.
Getting Started in a Career as a Computer Information Systems Specialist
Aside from the required academic credentials, you may wish to pursue certification by the American Health Information Management Association. This organization offers multiple certification options in disciplines such as health information management, medical coding, healthcare privacy and security, and analysis of health data. Certification is not a requirement for finding work, but some employers prefer to hire certified candidates. Certified applicants are attractive to many employers because AHIMA certification can take much of the burden off of them when it comes to vetting candidates with the proper leadership abilities and other qualifications.
Healthcare and information technology are both growing fields. Demand for specialists who combine these skills is currently growing at a rate of 15 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One of the most significant driving factors of growth is the push by the US federal government to digitize all patients' medical records, moving them from privately-maintained filing cabinets in doctors' offices to easily-accessible, yet increasingly vulnerable, database files online. These trends ensure job security for computer information systems specialists as well as specialists in the related field of information security.
Hospitals and doctors' offices are your most likely employers in this line of work. Surprisingly, you do have many other options for places to seek employment as a clinical information systems specialist. In 2016, outpatient care centers, insurance carriers, office administrative services, professional organizations, pharmaceutical companies and computer systems design firms were all actively using the services of clinical information specialists.
We hope this information is useful to you as you learn about the role that computer informatics specialists play in the current US healthcare system. If you're interested in pursuing employment as a computer information systems specialist, these insights may prove helpful to you as you decide on the next steps you want to take regarding your education and other credentials.
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