Heads of the class: New clinical informatics certification opens up opportunities

View on the News

An informatics opportunity for hospitalists

Dr. Blake Lesselroth

The American Board of Medical Specialties' decision to recognize clinical informatics as a board-certified subspecialty heralds an important professional opportunity for hospitalists. Many hospitalists are already an ideal fit to serve as champions in this movement; they boast strong project management skills, possess an understanding of health-systems management, and occupy a central role within their community of practice. Also, medical facilities tend to rely upon hospitalists to implement health information technologies (HIT).

Hospitalists should expect an increased demand for their expertise as regulatory mandates accelerate HIT adoption. However, for their specialty to evolve, hospitalists should consider how formal training in informatics could reinforce their value - especially in a changing health care landscape. First, hospitalists cross-trained in informatics are better positioned to lead system design, apply evidence-based practices to deployments, and promote a constructive culture of innovation. Second, while hospitalists have long been associated with quality improvement research, they will need formal training to effectively guide in the selection, validation, and piloting of performance measures. Finally, membership in the informatics community can increase access to new ideas and products in knowledge systems, computerized decision support, and mobile technologies.

In summary, informatics certification represents one promising path to fostering professional development, guiding HIT development, and enriching a portfolio of scholarship.

Dr. Blake J. Lesselroth is a hospitalist and informatician at Portland (Ore.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and teaches medical informatics at Oregon Health Sciences University.


A new subspecialty is drawing physicians from diverse medical backgrounds and career settings who aim to combine informatics with providing health care. More than 400 physicians recently became board certified in clinical informatics – the first class of diplomates in the freshly minted subspecialty.

Clinical informatics (CI) has "now become a subspecialty because there are so many people who believe it’s important," said Dr. William Hersh, an internist and chair of the department of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland.

Dr. William Hersh

"More and more health care organizations and certainly, almost every large health care organization, have someone who plays the role of chief medical informatics officer. By having a subspecialty, you then give professional recognition to those physicians who play this role. It really takes expertise by someone who understands medicine and understands information systems to make sure things run smoothly."

CI is the application of informatics and information technology to the delivery of health care services. The domain includes a wide spectrum of areas including clinical documentation, order entry systems, system design, system implementation, and adoption issues. While already incorporated into many practices, CI was not a recognized subspecialty until it was approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 2011. The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) spearheaded the new subspecialty, working for more than 5 years to define and help design the discipline. Physicians who are board certified by any of the 24 American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) member boards can now also certify in CI through an exam offered by the American Board of Preventive Medicine. In December 2013, 455 new subspecialists across the country became certified.

One of those alumni is Dr. Hersh, who also serves as director of the AMIA’s clinical informatics board review course.

"I’m proud to be a part of the pioneer class of leaders in this field," Dr. Hersh said in a statement. "When you look at the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s (ACGME’s) definition of the informatics discipline, the operative word is ‘transform.’ Every day, informaticians are working in their health care settings to change how we do things, to improve patient care and population health."


Next Article: