Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Musings on a Tool Every Academic Should Use

I often muse that there are few computer applications that truly save me time. For all the fun and productive things that computers enable me to do, they are just as often a time sink rather than a time saver, especially when hardware or software go wrong. The transition from being able to talk to a person on the phone to the use of chatbots and other ways to keep people with problems away from costly human support has added even more time, especially during the pandemic.

There is, however, one notable exception, a computer application that saves me a great deal of time. This is bibliographic management software. Any academic who writes a great deal, especially those who publish in journals and other venues across different disciplines, knows the time and effort required to maintain and format references.
As with all computer applications, one must choose their bibliographic management software package wisely. I was an early user of EndNote, back to Version 1 when it was first released in the 1990s. It had served me well over the years, but one challenge was that as the formats of bibliographic records changed, I was not able to take advantage of its automatic capture of metadata. I was also not able to easily merge my EndNote database with those of others, again due to the formatting issues. By the end of last year, my database of papers that I have cited once or more in research writing or teaching, had grown to over 12,000 entries, yet my effort to use the product put me in a silo.
This year I decided to make a decision to start over. My first decision was whether to continue with EndNote or move to a different package. One package that many of my colleagues seemed to be adopting was Zotero. This package has the advantage of being open-source, with a large developer community. I decided to make the switch.
The transition has not been simple, as my existing EndNote library had too many irregularities for me to simply import it into Zotero. However, I have been able to build up my new Zotero database relatively quickly due to its automated capture of metadata. (In fairness to EndNote, they have this feature as well.) The automated capture of metadata is not perfect, mainly because many Web sites and pages do not adhere to standards. But many key sources, such as PubMed, most journals, Amazon (for books), and others make entry into the database quick. One notable feature for someone concerned with the big picture of science is Zotero's ability to flag that a scientific paper has been retracted.
Zotero is not perfect, and one feature I hope is added soon is the ability to easily update a record, such as when a journal paper goes from "online ahead of print" to actually being "in print," i.e., having a volume, issue, and page numbers (even if many journals are not physically printed these days). The metadata of journal articles does change over time, and the ability to automate the capture of its changing as easily as its initial capture would be a great feature.
Nonetheless, bibliographic management software is a vitally important tool for those who write scientific papers, especially in inter-disciplinary fields like informatics. And the decision on which package to use is important, as changing from one to another can be time-consuming. But it is certainly an application whose proper use can save time overall.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Certification for the Rest of Informatics

After several years of planning, professional certification is coming to the rest of the informatics field, i.e., moving beyond just board certification for eligible physicians. While certification is somewhat easier to apply in the context of the physician board model, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) has now rolled out the AMIA Health Informatics Certification (AHIC, formerly Advanced Health Informatics Certification). Those who are certified will be designated as ACHIP, the AMIA Certified Health Informatics Professional. A section of the AMIA Web site provides detailed on the certification, eligibility for it, applying for and taking the exam, and recertification.

While AHIC is open to all who have a master's or doctoral degree in health informatics or a related discipline, the certification process is not conferred upon initial completion of one's education. Rather, individuals also need to have completed qualifying work experience to be eligible for certification. This is different from some fields, such as medicine, including the clinical informatics subspecialty, where one takes the board certification exam shortly after completing formal training. There are a number of healthcare disciplines that require significant work experience for certification, such as some of the advanced certifications offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The qualifications for AHIC are listed in a table on the AHIC Web site. There are two tracks of eligibility. Track 1 is for those who have a graduate degree in a health informatics-related area, e.g., health informatics, biomedical informatics, nursing informatics, public health informatics, translational bioinformatics, etc. Track 2 is for those who have a graduate degree in a related field, e.g., health professions such as nursing, pharmacy, and medicine, and other fields such as computer science and public health. The work time required for those in Track 1 is 50-100% work time over the last four of six years or 20-49% time over the last six of eight years. The work time required for those in Track 2 is 50-100% work time over the last six of eight years or 20-49% time over the last eight of 10 years.

The certification process is being developed and managed by the Health Informatics Certification Commission (HICC), a 14-member commission that is part of AMIA yet has considerable autonomy from AMIA, especially with regards to AMIA's educational programs. The HICC is responsible for eligibility, examination development, and recertification requirements for AHIC.

The first offering of the certification exam is taking place this fall. The outline of exam topics follows the health informatics workforce analysis commissioned by AMIA (Gadd, C.S., Steen, E.B., Caro, C.M., Greenberg, S., Williamson, J.J., Fridsma, D.B., 2020. Domains, tasks, and knowledge for health informatics practice: results of a practice analysis. J Am Med Inform Assoc 27, 845–852. https://doi.org/10.1093/jamia/ocaa018), just as the clinical informatics subspecialty exams now uses the complementary clinical informatics subspecialty workforce analysis for its exam blueprint.

The two questions someone enrolled in or contemplating seeking a degree in informatics will likely ask are: (1) Is this certification process for me? and (2) Will it benefit my career? Since this form of certification is new for professionals who work in informatics, the benefits at this time are unknown. The main drivers of the uptake will be employers who make hiring decisions that are influenced by job candidates having the certification. Similar to the clinical informatics subspecialty, we will probably see a gradual uptake of the AHIC over time. It may never be an absolute requirement for a job but it will be an important "feather in one's cap" when competing with others for a given position.