The big news in healthcare information technology last week was the announcement by the American Medical Informatics Association that "official medicine" is finally climbing aboard the IT train.
Professional medicine officially embraces IT
By late 2012, for the first time, physician informaticists will be able to sit for an exam and gain board certification in the subspecialty of clinical informatics.
The American Board of Preventive Medicine will administer the exam, which the American Board of Medical Specialties has voted to recognize. Certificates should be issued by early 2013—matching a timeline published in March 2010 by former AMIA President and CEO Dr. Don Detmer.
AMIA has been working toward certification in clinical informatics since 2005. The AMIA board received a 2007 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop the content and requirements.
Under the plan, practicing physician informaticists who have been university-trained in medical informatics or informally educated can take the board exam for the first five years.
"The grandfathering process was part of the proposal," says Dr. Edward Shortliffe, AMIA's president and CEO since August 2009. "Those who are already doing it and didn't have the opportunity to get the formal training because it wasn't available and have made a commitment to the discipline, should have the opportunity to be board-certified. That means they don't need to do the fellowship to be board-eligible."
The examination will cover what Shortliffe describes as "general competency" in the field of clinical informatics. There will be no optional questions for specific medical subspecialties. But, Shortliffe says, "There will be input that probably will reflect a variety of different specialties." For example, the ABPM "will probably make sure there is a fair amount of public health medicine" in the exam.
After the five-year window shuts, everyone seeking certification will have to pass through a fellowship program in clinical informatics similar to fellowships in other subspecialties such as cardiology or pathology, Shortliffe says. They'll do it at academic medical centers and their training will need to be accredited by the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education, he says.
Depending on the medical specialty, some of the boards will defer to ABPM, but others will want to become co-sponsors of the informatics certification program, and if they are co-sponsors, their diplomates will receive their clinical informatics certificates from their own boards, Shortliffe says. For example, he says, the American Board of Pathology is already a co-sponsor.
Physicians without board certification in a medical specialty won't qualify for this designation, Shortliffe says, but "even for people who aren't eligible, this provides high level validation for the discipline," Shortliffe says. "Some of us have been doing this for 40 or 50 years, and it's really nice when established medicine says, 'Yeah, this is real.' "
AMIA is working on a separate informatics certification program for non-board-certified physicians, pharmacists and other clinical professionals, Shortliffe says but won't predict when that will be ready.
Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn.
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