In Growing Health IT Job Market, Clinical Background Necessary

April 10, 2013
A recent report on the growing demand for health informatics workers in the U.S. says there is a changing landscape of skills and backgrounds when it comes to jobs in the field. More employers are looking for people with clinical backgrounds who can analyze data to improve clinical outcomes.

The growing demand for health informatics workers in the U.S. has been well documented through various studies over the past few months. Another recent study, from career market intelligence vendor Burning Glass (Boston, Mass.), confirms since 2007, the demand for health IT workers has risen steadily. Burning Glass, which used intelligence systems to analyze job postings for the study, found that healthcare informatics jobs increased by 36 percent from 2007 to 2011, compared to a nine percent growth in all healthcare postings.

The study, which was published and distributed by non-profit Jobs For Future, which sponsors an initiative that promotes colleges’ use of real-time labor info to inform program offerings called Credentials that Work, aimed to understand what kinds of health informatics jobs were in highest demand and the skills needed in preparation for those jobs. According to Sue Goldberger, director of education and career advancement services at Burning Glass, the overall increase in the jobs is due to a growing need for certain jobs like clinical documentation and implementation, which had gone up two-fold.

Sue Goldberger

Similarly, the demand for jobs like health information manager and coding and compliance review specialist has also gone up in high numbers. Meanwhile, lower-level jobs such as medical records clerks have actually decreased in demand. This has led Goldberger to conclude that there is a changing landscape of skills and backgrounds when it comes to health informatics jobs.

“There clearly has been an up-scaling going on in terms of jobs, and a much greater emphasis on people with clinical backgrounds who could basically apply some of the health informatics data and analysis methods to the clinical environment,” Goldberger says. “You’re seeing a shift to upper-level positions like clinical documentation and improvement, the health information managers, the coding compliance and reviews.”

Overall, Goldberger notes there’s a shift taking place from using these information systems for financial purposes to improving clinical outcomes.  Thus, the health IT jobs that are growing don’t require a “heavy emphasis on the IT side,” and are more geared to people with clinical backgrounds. Interestingly, through a qualitative or quantitative background, she says the requirements for clinical documentation and analysis jobs do not call for physicians, but anyone with a clinical background. “It could be someone who has a nursing degree,” she says; although HIM managers jobs do call for someone “with a little bit more on the IT and clinical side.”

According to Goldberger, the research revealed that certification has become integral for certain jobs in health IT, such as medical coders. For medical coders, more than 60 percent of the job ads surveyed explicitly required some kind of registered health informatics technician certification for employment, and she says that it’s probably closer to 100 percent since many job postings are short on detail. Flexibility, she notes, was also an important skill for people entering the health IT workforce.  She says it’s not going to be adding hordes of new single purpose specialists.

For younger people who are just entering the industry, Goldberger says this kind of information can be useful if they are trying to break into an administrative role. She says it would serve them well to have an understanding of medical coding and how to use data to improve financial and clinical outcomes. She notes, however, the research revealed it was less important to have a health informatics degree. A small percentage of the clinical improvement and documentation jobs required a health informatics certification, she says.

“That’s because the primary concern the employer has is that the person has a clinical background,” Goldberger says. “If you’re already a nurse, they are looking for experience in interpreting and analyzing clinical data, but that doesn’t mean a full-on second degree.”

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