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First Physicians Receive Certification in Clinical Informatics Subspecialty

December 23, 2013
by David Raths
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Subspecialty helps fill work force need created by healthcare transformation, AMIA says
Blackford Middleton, M.D.

This month, the first group of physicians to apply for board certification in the subspecialty of clinical informatics received notification of their certification.

The American Board of Medical Specialties approved the subspecialty in 2011. The board exam was administered in October through the American Board of Preventive Medicine and offered to pathologists through the American Board of Pathology. The 455 new subspecialists were notified of their certification in December.

The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) spearheaded the effort to create a clinical informatics subspecialty. In an interview with Healthcare Informatics, the incoming chair of AMIA’s board of directors, Blackford Middleton, M.D., M.P.H., said AMIA has been working on this effort for more than five years because it could see that this was an issue of work force development and that as a nation we were underprepared for the health IT transformation taking place. Based on analyses by ONC and others, there is believed to be a deficit of around 40,000 people in the field, said Middleton, assistant vice chancellor for health affairs and chief informatics officer for Vanderbilt University Health System. Some of those are IT staffers, but there is a need for more clinical informaticians among physicians as well as nurses, he added.

“With the federal government spending $20 billion to implement health IT, there is a great need,” Middleton said. “We believe every medical school should have a department of biomedical informatics and every large health system should have a chief medical informatics officer and a chief nursing informatics officer.”

By nature complex health IT deployments are interdisciplinary because they pull together people from all areas of healthcare, but they requires strong clinical leadership. “It is too much to expect even the most enthusiastic of physicians to do this part-time,” Middleton said. “It is a huge job. And the subspecialty establishes a bar and recognizes that there is a knowledge base.”

The new subspecialty and notification of the board certification coincides with the ramp-up to iHealth2014, a professional meeting devoted to clinical informaticians. The meeting, to be held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Orlando, Fla., will convene leaders including Lisa Simpson, President and CEO of AcademyHealth; Farzad Mostashari, M.D., Visiting Fellow at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution; and Judy Murphy, R.N., Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, one panel will feature all four previous ONC leaders at the same time.