The ABC’s of Clinical Informatics

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Andrew Boyd, MD
Department Head
Director of Graduate Studies

Clinical informatics is a board subspecialization approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties sponsored by the American Board of Preventive Medicine intended for physicians. What leads to confusion is the term “clinical informatics” has been used historically within the health IT to apply to multiple jobs where an MD or DO degree is not required. If you see a job posting for clinical informatics on a health IT board, this usually that refers to an information technology position directly working either with clinicians, where a clinical background can help but is not required. In job descriptions if you see “clinical informatics board subspecialized” this refers to the physician specialty of clinical informatics. As the clinical informatics subspecialization has just recently been approved, a practice pathway to sit for the board in clinical informatics is permitted. The subspecialization in clinical informatics is unique as any primarily boarded physician in the United States is allowed complete a subspecialization in clinical informatics. So a surgeon, a pediatrician, a pathologist, and any other primary board is allowed to subspecialize in clinical informatics, no other physician subspecialization is set up in the same way.

For the practice pathway, three years of practice in clinical informatics is required where practice time must be at least 25% of a full-time job. Additional documentation of both research and teaching activities may be submitted for review, which is the equivalent of a Master’s degree and health informatics or a post Master’s degree in health informatics. Upon completion of the above requirements and additional requirements as specified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine, one can sit for the one day test to become board-certified in clinical informatics. The first board test in clinical informatics was in October 2013. The practice pathway is only eligible for practicing physicians until 2018.

After 2018, the only methodology to become subspecialized in clinical informatics is a two-year fellowship. Currently four training programs, including University of Illinois at Chicago, have applied to have formal training programs approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in clinical informatics. More training programs plan to apply after the initial approval of programs.

The term health informatics is a much broader term than clinical informatics. Health informatics is related to all health disciplines application of informatics. The subdisciplines of health informatics include nursing informatics, pathology informatics, nutrition informatics, rehabilitation science informatics, dental informatics, social and organizational health informatics, consumer health informatics, and multiple others. Health informatics refers to all of these fields in a global concept unlike Clinical informatics as specified above only refers to physicians. However, A confusing aspect is a many job descriptions use the concept of clinical informatics for health informatics jobs which work closely to the health professions. As the terms continue to evolve, job requirements and descriptions hopefully become stable. Currently, individuals need to examine the use of the terms and what type of licensure or certification is needed when you see the term clinical informatics.