Clinical informatics has been growing significantly in this age of precision medicine, healthcare reform, and population health. Over the last decade, there have been great efforts focused on implementation and integration of electronic health records (EHRs). With the explosive use of mobile technologies, doctors can engage, educate, and empower their patients in ways that have never before been possible. An interconnected digital healthcare data network is slowly but steadily taking shape. We will eventually reach a new era in which clinicians can harness the power of information technology (IT) to receive, report, and analyze healthcare data in order to predict and prevent adverse health outcomes for individuals and populations.
However, there is still much left to be done—the current state of EHRs is not delivering its full potential. In fact, many providers would argue that EHRs have taken us steps backward in our quest to achieve higher efficiency, safety, and quality. As members of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) IT Committee, we have heard the frustration of hospitalists at each of our IT interest group meetings and other forums. This frustration does not come from resistance to adopt or accept technology, but arises from the gap between where we currently are with health IT and where each of us knows we could and should be. For us to attain the full potential of health IT, providers with a clinical perspective must engage and lead in this area. We believe hospitalists are uniquely qualified and positioned to provide such leadership.
Understanding the great demand for specialized physician informatics experts, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) approved clinical informatics as a board-eligible subspecialty in 2011, and the first board exam was offered in October 2013. The board certification recognizes both the vital role of practicing informatics in healthcare and the sophisticated knowledge and skills it requires. Appropriately, the exam assesses not only knowledge of informatics, but also quality, safety, leadership, and change management. There is a narrow window of opportunity for hospitalists who are currently involved in health IT to become certified in clinical informatics during a grandfather period. Physicians can grandfather into board eligibility via the “practice pathway” through 2017 if they have been working in informatics professionally for at least 25% of their time during any three of the previous five years. Starting in 2018, only graduates of two-year Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited fellowships will be board eligible.
Hospitalists, given their broad understanding of hospital operations, their firsthand end-user experience of EHRs, the high percentage that come from the tech-savvy generation, and their flexible working schedule, are well-positioned to become physician leaders in this field. Recognizing the high value of these skills in hospitalists, the SHM IT Committee has made encouraging SHM members to become board certified in clinical informatics one of its priorities. In fact, we believe that hospital medicine could have more clinical informatics board-certified physicians than any other specialty. If you have been contributing to health IT projects over the last few years, you may already be qualified to sit for the board exam of clinical informatics.
Currently, there are fewer than 800 physicians board certified in clinical informatics, and there has been a high pass rate of about 90% for the board certification exam. We encourage every board-eligible hospitalist who has been practicing informatics to apply for the board exam. For more information, you may refer to the webpage created by the SHM IT committee and seek advice from SHM IT committee members from the HMX IT community forum.1,2 The future potential of health IT is simply beyond imagination, and hospitalists can, and should, be the major driving force.