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9/26/2012
12:50 PM
Neil Versel
Neil Versel
Slideshows

8 Health IT Certifications That Pack Career Power

You don't always need a master's program to break into health IT. These non-degree programs offer viable options for many job seekers.




At the inaugural InformationWeek Healthcare CIO Roundtable in July 2012, some of America's most influential healthcare CIOs lamented that a workforce training initiative from the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) was not helping to ease the severe shortage of health IT talent, at least not on the provider side.

"The people coming out of the ONC workforce training programs don't have any practical experience," said Rebecca Armato, executive director for physician and interoperabililty services at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif.

"But I don't think that's a reason not to do the training programs," added Gary Christensen, CIO and COO of the Rhode Island Quality Institute, which serves as a Beacon Community Regional Extension Center and health information exchange. "I don't think it was a bad idea to try to start creating curriculum and programs to get people thinking about these careers earlier."

Though they may lack real-world experience, people who successfully complete an ONC-funded training program at community colleges across the country receive a professional certificate of completion, attesting to prospective employers that they have certain skills to enter the health IT workforce.

Certificate holders should understand healthcare-specific regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security rules. They should understand how electronic health records (EHRs) are transforming healthcare, and how the conversion to ICD-10 coding, Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) X12 version 5010 electronic transaction standards, and new reimbursement models are straining IT departments.

Similarly, non-university health IT certificate programs--more online than in a classroom these days--exist for people who want to break into health IT on their own schedules. These, as IT consultant and security consultant Michael Shannon recently told InformationWeek Healthcare, can be quite useful. "If I were a young person wanting to get into health IT, I would probably bypass the university system and try to get certification, do online training," he said.

Those with years of experience can burnish their credentials, too, by taking refresher courses, upgrading skills with continuing education, and sitting for a professional certification exam.

Whether earned through a community college, a professional membership society, or a private training company, a non-degree certification--and a few extra letters after your name--can command a lot of respect. Dig into our slideshow to take a closer look at some of the health IT certification options available to you.


Broad-based IT industry association CompTIA has long been certifying professional competency in various areas of computer technology and information systems. In July 2011, the group added an exam for healthcare IT technicians.

The CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician certificate addresses five areas: regulatory requirements, organizational behavior, IT operations, healthcare's unique business operations, and security. It is intended for people with basic knowledge of practice workflow and clinical IT systems, and either 500 hours of real-world experience or who have CompTIA A+ certification.

Training for the Healthcare IT Technician exams has, like with other CompTIA certificate programs, spawned a cottage industry of test prep through third-party education companies. Those offering training for the health IT exam include Premier Knowledge Solutions, CED Solutions, and CBT Nuggets.

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Like many professional membership societies, the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has its own certification exam and designation, namely CPHIMS. "It's an international standard of knowledge," according to Helen Figge, senior director of career services for the Chicago-based organization. Indeed, HIMSS bases the test on an international study of health IT tasks.

"The key to CPHIMS is that it supports healthcare information and management systems professionals," Figge said.

People with the CPHIMS designation are capable of adjusting to rapid change in technology and healthcare, according to Figge. "They have shown that they understand the landscape," she said. "They have the concept knowledge and the skills."

Candidates are required to have a bachelor's degree (or international equivalent) plus five years of IT experience, at least three of which must be in healthcare, or a graduate degree plus three years in IT, including two in health IT.

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Representing technical professionals who specialize in health IT, Salt Lake City-based American Society of Health Informatics Managers (ASHIM) awards the CHISP designation to people who have demonstrated skills in computer science, healthcare regulations, data security, data mining, healthcare operational principles, basic medical terminology, health insurance billing, and certain healthcare-specific technologies. According to ASHIM, "CHISP tells the hiring manager that a professional understands health IT and both the healthcare and IT industries."

To sit for the CHISP exam, candidates must have at least three years of experience related to hardware, software, data, or clinical IT. Alternatively, less experienced individuals who take ASHIM's professional training program, as well as those with a degree in computer science or Microsoft or Cisco certification, are eligible to take the CHISP exam.

Typical CHISP designees work as EHR implementation specialists, practice consultants, workflow analysts, network engineers, clinical software trainers, and help desk and application analysts.

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American Health Information Management Association's (AHIMA) Commission on Certification for Health Informatics and Information Management oversees eight distinct certification programs, including one for the new Certified Documentation Improvement Practitioner (CDIP) credential. This program is intended to help healthcare organizations achieve the goals of Medicare Recovery Audit Contractor audits, the Meaningful Use EHR incentive program, and other healthcare quality-improvement initiatives.

Other AHIMA professional certifications include:

-- Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) for executive-level health information specialists.

-- Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT), suitable for all levels of healthcare organizations.

-- Certified Coding Associate (CCA) and Certified Coding Specialist (CCS) for coding professionals. Another credential, Certified Coding Specialist--Physician-based (CCS-P), recognizes those proficient in outpatient clinics, group practices, and other physician-centric settings.

-- Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA), which signifies expertise and experience in data analysis.

-- Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS), recognizing competence in designing, implementing, and administering privacy and security programs.

All except RHIT, CCS, and CCS-P require at least an associate's degree and relevant professional experience.

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Said to be the first professional certification expressly for healthcare CIOs and IT executives, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) CHCIO designation is "more leadership/executive than technical," according to CHIME education director Suzy Marzano.

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based CHIME turned to healthcare CIOs to develop the exam, which focuses on 13 core tasks, most of which are heavy on leadership. "The exam is trying to get at your analytical skills and your ability to understand complex situations, such as how to respond to a data breach," Marzano explains.

Eligibility is limited to CHIME members with at least a bachelor's degree and who have been a healthcare CIO or equivalent for a minimum of three years. There is also a requirement to complete at least 25 units of continuing education within 12 months of passing the test, then 45 more units every three years. At least half the credits must come from CHIME programs.

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Independent of government or membership organizations, Health IT Certification, a company based in Salem, Ore., has an eight-year history in testing professional competency.

Today, Health IT Certification has four programs and credentials:

-- Certified Professional in Health Information Technology (CPHIT).

-- Certified Professional in Electronic Health Records (CPEHR).

-- Certified Professional in Health Information Exchange (CPHIE).

-- Certified Professional in Operating Rules Administration (CPORA).

Founded in 2004 with the HIT and EHR certifications, the group has trained more than 3,600 people since then. Health IT Certification added CPHIE in 2008, which includes governance issues and modules for public health and personal health records. CPORA recently launched in response to the "operating rules" for HIPAA transactions called for in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"Some of the professional associations think we compete with them," said Steven Lazarus, president and founder of Boundary Information Group, a consortium of health IT consulting firms that created Health IT Certification. But he sees a distinction.

"We take a multi-stakeholder approach," said Lazarus, noting that the company updates its curriculum at least once a year. "We are very nimble and flexible," added Lazarus, a former chair of the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange and onetime Medical Group Management Association executive.

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Another for-profit company offering professional health IT certification is New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, an entity with 30 years of experience in computer-related education.

New Horizon's Healthcare Information Management curriculum helps prepare people for jobs in medical billing with three main designations:

-- Certified Professional Coder (CPC).

-- Certified Billing and Coding Professional (CBCS).

-- Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA).

In the case of CPC, applicants need at least two years of professional experience, otherwise they will get the CPC-A designation, signifying apprentice status. However, the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) will cut the two-year apprentice period in half for those who successfully complete CPC training through New Horizons. Also partnering with New Horizons in healthcare certification is the National Healthcareer Association.

The global company, headquartered in Conshohocken, Pa., also offers training to health information managers seeking Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) and Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications.

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As part of the $118 million health IT workforce program funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) created the HIT Pro competency exams and certificates to recognize skills in those who have completed non-degree health IT training at any of 82 community colleges nationwide. People who have been trained elsewhere or who have professional experience may sit for the exams, too.

The six exams support various roles intended to help organizations as they work toward earning Medicare and Medicaid bonus payments for achieving Meaningful Use of EHRs:

-- Practice workflow and information management redesign specialists.

-- Clinician/practitioner consultants.

-- Implementation support specialists.

-- Implementation managers.

-- Technical/software support.

-- Trainers.

ONC currently offers the HIT Pro exams for free.

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