Here's why—and how—you need to update your health informatics program

The impacts of health care reform reach beyond just practitioners and insurers. In fact, demand for health informaticists, people who specialize in the development, use, and maintenance of biomedical data systems, has nearly doubled from 2010 to 2016. The first two major pieces of health care reform in the 21st century, the HITECH Act in 2009 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, incentivized the adoption of highly developed Electronic Health Records (EHRs)—hospitals’ primary patient record-keeping systems. Informaticists were perfectly suited to help hospitals implement new EHR systems.

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COE units jumped in to fill the gap between the number of workers qualified to implement these systems and nationwide employer demand for skilled health informaticists. Today, there are more than 100 graduate degree programs in health informatics, many housed in COE units. The curriculum of many of these programs is designed around those earlier implementation needs.

Today, the industry has moved past implementing new data systems. In 2016, 84% of hospitals and health systems had an advanced EHR system. Informaticists are now needed to improve intersystem operability, design user interfaces, provide data security, and conduct data analysis.

The profession sets a new standard

With more programs teaching a wider range of abilities, employers are increasingly confused by the actual skills held by informatics graduates. The CIO of an academic medical center laments,

“I read 100 resumes and led 30 interviews in the last four months. Candidates with informatics credentials that I know, like the ones from my institution’s medical school, rise to the top because I can verify their skills.”

While most programs follow the same themes, the application of informatics principles varies by program. For example, the table below shows that the program at the University of Michigan takes a traditional interdisciplinary approach while the program at the College of St. Scholastica puts a greater emphasis on analytics. If employers do not know what “M.S. in Health Informatics” means at your university, your graduates are at a disadvantage in the job market.

Curriculum Excerpts from the University of Michigan and the College of St. Scholastica health informatics

New rules for programs to play by

To alleviate the confusion, accreditors and professional associations are setting standards for your program to follow. CAHIIM, the health informatics accrediting body, is overhauling its standards from vague content areas to demonstrable competencies. Two professional organizations, AMIA and AHIMA, are launching certifications to validate health informaticists’ skills. Programs are rushing to accreditation, with an expected increase from seven accredited programs at the beginning of 2017 to 18 by the end of the year. Meeting this accepted standard will quickly become a must-have for new and existing health informatics programs

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Meeting the standard

Your program—and your graduates—need to meet market standards to remain relevant. Aligning your curriculum with accreditation and certification standards ensures that your graduates will have the skills needed to succeed. Our state profiles show the most in-demand jobs and skills for all 50 states and DC. Download now.

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