In looking over the topics I have addressed in the year and a half of this blog, I have tried to convey biomedical and health informatics as a broad field with many roles and opportunities for people from a wide variety of professional backgrounds. One group that I have not addressed explicitly is physicians.
I admittedly have a kinship for physicians in the informatics field. After all, I am a physician by training, and even though I know longer actively care for patients, my training and early career experience provide a perspective that informs my understanding of the role of physicians in informatics.
Overall, the opportunities for physicians in informatics are substantial and growing. While many early informatics roles for physicians focused on research and development, the real growth opportunities are now for those seeking to be informatics practitioners. These practitioners play a variety of roles not only in planning and implementing systems, but deriving value from the information within them.
An ever increasing number of healthcare organizations have recognized the importance of physician informatics leadership, manifested most frequently in positions that go by the name of Chief Medical Information Officer or Chief Medical Informatics Officer (both of which conveniently are represented by the acronym CMIO). While the CMIO position is probably now the most visible physician role in informatics, it is hardly the only one. Physicians also play other roles in healthcare organizations as well as other entities, such as vendor, consulting, government, and research organizations.
The OHSU biomedical informatics graduate program has always had a strong representation from physicians, who comprise about 50% of our enrollment. They are therefore not the only demographic of student in the program, as we also have students from other healthcare professionals (e.g., nurses, pharmacists, lab/radiology technicians, health information managers) as well as from outside the health professions (e.g., information technology, computer science, and even further afield from law, biology, business, and others). Furthermore, the professional diversity of our program has always, in my mind, been one of the program's assets, even though trying to teach informatics simultaneously to a physician, nurse, computer scientist, and businessperson can be a challenge!
But it nonetheless has been gratifying to see many physicians go on to assume roles and leadership in the field. The diverse roles that physicians who enter the field take exemplifies the expansion of these roles.
There are a number of issues ahead for physicians contemplating careers in informatics to ponder. One concerns training. How much should they seek? Should they get it at all? If they do, in what kinds of programs should they train? I honestly cannot give an unequivocal answer. There are many physicians who move into informatics roles without any formal training. However, I do believe over time that formal training will be a requisite for informatics jobs. If nothing else, one's competitors for those jobs will have such training.
As for how much training, that is also an uncertainty. There is a growing recognized knowledge base for the informatics field. There is also recognition of an increasing number of best practices. Physician-informaticians might not need to understand all the technical details of the systems with which they work, but they must have the big picture both of the technology and how it fits into their environment.
Another issue on the horizon for physicians is certification, in particular the proposed clinical informatics subspecialty. This subspecialty will be available to physicians in many, perhaps all, specialties (e.g., internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, surgery, etc.). There are still many unknowns about this process, such as how will other informatics experience and training besides formal on-site fellowship training be viewed and how physicians without board certification might be able to take part. Nonetheless, certification is important in healthcare professions, and certification in informatics will lead to more professional recognition of the field.
I believe it is safe to conclude here are tremendous opportunities for physicians to be innovators and leaders in the proper and most effective use of information technology IT) not only in healthcare, but also personal health, public health, and research.
Despite the uncertainty about some of the details, the outlook for physicians in informatics is bright, even after the initial wave of EHR adoption is complete (as addressed in a previous blog entry). The need for expertise in health IT implementation will only increase, especially as we see more coordination and quality measurement of care delivery.