Is IT Career Experience Enough to Get into Health Informatics?

The healthcare industry is facing numerous challenges following the transition to electronic health records (EHRs) in recent years. To address those challenges, the health IT workforce is expected to increase in areas such as health informatics.

But the industry faces a problem. Finding qualified candidates to fulfill positions continues to be a challenge for health IT employers. Too often, candidates have either a strong information technology (IT) background, but insufficient knowledge of healthcare systems, or they have healthcare experience but little IT knowledge.

This does not mean that someone with a background in IT can’t take advantage of the favorable climate and transition into healthcare.

Possessing IT experience is a great way to get into health IT, but it’s a good idea to also learn as much as you can about healthcare to set yourself apart.

There are generally two ways to break into healthcare IT – from the clinical side or from the IT side. Because of the competition, a key way to make yourself stand out from others is with a strong interview.

“You need to be at the top of your game when interviewing. Primarily, you will need to speak to the patient care mission of the organization,” said Shawn Riley, leader of the information management office at the Mayo Clinic, to “When you work at IBM, IT is the absolute center of the universe. IT is a support group in the medical world, not the center of the show.”

Riley suggests discussing what sort of technology physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals would need to do their jobs better. While those without healthcare IT experience may not have specific examples, they can still stress efficiency, best practices and other forms of support that could help the healthcare provider or the patient.

Since so many healthcare facilities are implementing EMR, it is also smart to learn what healthcare professionals need to maintain their newly implemented EMR systems.

Another helpful method of interview preparation is speaking with someone who has transitioned from IT to health IT. Learning from the mistakes and successes of others can be really advantageous to the interviewee.

Aside from a good interview, education is always important. Most healthcare IT jobs call for at least a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a field somehow related to healthcare or IT.

According to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), many healthcare employers consider a master’s degree in health informatics the most valuable graduate degree. Typical courses could include health sciences, healthcare decision support analysis, health information systems, e-business models and electronic medical records management.

Upon completing a master’s degree, students have career choices such as:

  • health informatics consultant
  • chief medical information officer
  • health information resource manager
  • clinical data analyst
  • nursing informatics specialist
  • health informatics director
  • compliance officer
  • health information system application designer

It should be noted that these positions are generally well-compensated. Medical and health services mangers made a median wage of $88,580 as of June 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Be sure to keep updated on all IT certifications. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Project Management Professional (PMP) are examples of technical certifications likely to be in demand.

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