Are Healthcare IT Certifications Worth It?

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For years, the healthcare industry—whether we’re talking about hospital systems or individual physicians’ groups—has relied on technology to manage patient records, share clinical data and, increasingly, book appointments. Patients can now use portals to communicate with their primary-care physicians and access medical histories.

As a result of this technological trend, the healthcare community faces a number of pressing issues: the need to demonstrate that health IT has value, that data can be transformed into actionable information, and that systems can be migrated “to support federal initiatives,” according to JoAnn Klinedinst, vice president of professional development at the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) – North America.

Those issues, coupled with the increasing pace of technological change, create a fierce challenge for tech pros. “The explosion of the electronic medical record, genomics and consumer-driven healthcare is increasing the need for health IT professionals across multiple disciplines,” said Jessica Giannasca, senior director of IS Business Operations at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

In areas such as advanced analytics, Giannasca added, “the technology is changing so fast that it is very challenging to find talent with experience or education on the latest platforms.” Healthcare employers across the country are under pressure to provide more consumer-like mobile experiences, all while implementing and maintaining the tightest possible security applications.

Why Bother with Certifications?

All this makes healthcare sound like an environment where skills and experience are the only things necessary to put qualified candidates in a good position to land a job. However, that’s not always the case. “With all the changes occurring in health IT which are moving at an exponential rate, in many cases it’s very important to [differentiate yourself from others] with a certification in a body of knowledge,” Klinedinst said.

For tech pros without a healthcare background, the right certification “can be the first step in showing interest and commitment to the field,” Giannasca said. “I’ve seen traditional certification bodies start to recognize this need and create healthcare-specific certifications.” Healthcare has its own terminology, processes and protected data: the cybersecurity certification body ISC2, for example, now offers the HealthCare Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP) designation.

Even for experienced healthcare IT professionals, Klinedinst believes, certifications can prove “a differentiator to a hiring manager. With applicants who are very close, certifications definitely make a difference.” Many organizations compensate their employees for earning designations, “so there is a compensation component.”

To Giannasca, the value of healthcare certifications is twofold. First, they validate an individual’s knowledge, confidence, and skills. Second, they help organizations promote a culture of learning, innovation, “and the ability to elevate the conversations around health IT, which ultimately helps our primary customers—the patient and their families.”

Which Designation is Right for You?

If you decide a healthcare IT certification will help your career, you still need to select which designations will prove most useful. Much of your decision, of course, depends on the specific technical path you’re on. Giannasca suggests beginning your research with professional organizations such as HIMSS, ISC2, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) and the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA).

Andy Farella, CHOP’s Associate CIO for Business Applications and Research IS, noted that many new college graduates “benefit from certifications in specific vendor systems such as Cisco for networking and Microsoft for their tool sets.” Because much of today’s healthcare technology involves configuring EMR software to meet an organization’s workflow needs, certifications in tools such as Epic and Cerner can likewise be valuable. Other vendors to keep an eye on are NextGen, Allscripts, eClinicalWorks and GE Centricity.

For her part, HIMSS’s Klinedinst is a big believer in the value that certifications add to a career. She holds three: the Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems, or CPHIMS; the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP); and the Digital Event Strategist (DES) from the Virtual Edge Institute.

“Each one of these certifications was acquired based on my professional development plan,” Klinedinst explained. “The CPHIMS indicates that I have a command of the health IT Body of Knowledge, the PMP signals that I have advanced knowledge of project management principles, and the DES indicates that I have command of a body of knowledge for the entire lifecycle of producing digital education.”

Klinedinst believes the PMP and CPHIMs are particularly important because “so much of what is done in healthcare is project-driven.” Plus, she noted, “If I wanted to leave healthcare, the PMP would still be a sound investment for me since I could work in other industries.”

Some Nuts and Bolts 

“Certifications are typically obtained on the job, so to break in, you may need to land that first job at a junior level and convince your prospective employer that you have the skills and capabilities to quickly become certified and become productive,” said CHOP’s Farella. “Once you establish yourself, seek additional certifications to broaden your marketability.”

While certifications can add to your value in terms of compensation, Giannasca stresses that the knowledge gained during the certification process “needs to be paired with the ability to execute by having core competencies like teamwork and accountability, in order to boost your earning potential in the long term.”

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