What is a Director of Clinical Informatics?
March 10, 2021
Influencing how a healthcare organization uses clinical information systems is no small task—and breaking into a career as a director of clinical informatics isn't exactly a minor undertaking either. In this role, the right combination of technical know-how, work experience, and education is imperative to succeed.
Health data are growing at a breakneck pace. That rate of growth has reached an unprecedented magnitude in recent years as healthcare organizations embrace digital technologies and emerging cloud and software systems to improve the availability and costs of care, and to enhance the patient and provider experience.
How fast is the field growing? According to Dell EMC's 2019 Global Data Protection Index, the volume of health data being managed by healthcare providers rose an average of 878 percent between 2016 and 2018—a rate faster than manufacturing, financial services, or media data. Even more impressive is that amidst the boom, studies found that big data in healthcare will continue to grow exponentially.
In a 2018 International Data Corporation (IDC) report sponsored by the global data and storage company Seagate Technology, researchers reported that healthcare data will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36 percent through 2025. That's faster than the projected CAGR of data in manufacturing, financial services, and media.
While the skyrocketing amount of healthcare data is helping organizations increase efficiency and provide improved patient outcomes, it's also pushing current and future professionals in the field to actively seek training to pursue roles fueled by the swell of digitization and automation. In particular, upper-level managers with sufficient knowledge of medical terminology and clinical procedures and an interest in computer systems may find that the role of director of clinical informatics is one worth pursuing.
Given the high demand for clinical informatics experts at all levels of the industry, healthcare organizations across the country are adding this relatively new position to their rosters. In addition, they are incentivizing candidates with the opportunity to work at the forefront of innovation in their industry while enhancing the care experience for patients and providers alike.
So, what is a director of clinical informatics? And, what does it take to become one? We'll answer those question and others here, including:
- What is a director of clinical informatics?
- What does a director of clinical informatics do?
- How does this field differ from similar careers?
- Director of clinical informatics education requirements
- How much does a director of clinical informatics earn?
- How many years does it take to become a director of clinical informatics?
- What's the typical advancement path for a director of clinical informatics?
What is a director of clinical informatics?
Clinical informatics directors work in a variety of settings, including:
- Clinical research centers
- Private practices
- Other medical organizations
Within this leadership role, they deal with the organization and management of health information, which the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) describes as "the data related to a person's medical history, including symptoms, diagnoses, procedures."
As healthcare technology advances, clinical informatics directors are increasingly in demand to ensure that patient data is maintained and exchanged accurately and efficiently through health information technology (HIT) such as electronic health records (EHR), telehealth, and digital applications.
With a potent combination of business acumen and information technology (IT) skills, clinical informatics directors are critical to making clinical information more easily accessible to doctors, nurses, and other medical providers. Their work also supports goals to improve outcomes, increase safety, lower costs, and promote high-quality care throughout the sector.
What does a director of clinical informatics do?
Directors of clinical informatics typically oversee the design of IT systems to facilitate health information collection, management, and analysis. The type of data housed in these systems may include patient medical histories, such as symptoms and disease diagnosis, as well as records of procedures and outcomes.
They're responsible for keeping internal processes up-to-date by monitoring the latest technological tools and customizing software to fit their employers' needs. When necessary, they'll also recommend enhancements to the chief information officer (CIO) or chief medical information officer (CMIO), two C-suite executives who are typically responsible for leading clinical informatics programs.
It's also common for a director of clinical informatics to:
- Supervise the work of medical records and health information technicians
- Assist clinical teams' workflow design, education, and training
- Address IT issues through troubleshooting and repair
- Provide system and operations expertise on executive committees
- Develop and oversee departmental goals, budgets, objectives
- Ensure compliance with new laws and regulations in healthcare technology
How does this career differ from others in the field?
Health informatics is broad and growing broader. Ongoing technological changes are creating an expanding number of opportunities for professionals with a highly sought-after combination of clinical, IT, and data analysis skills.
Health informatics jobs on the rise include:
- Clinical informatics specialist: Whereas clinical informatics directors oversee the daily operations of the clinical information systems, clinical informatics specialists tend to play more of a support role in the implementation and maintenance of clinical information processes. Well-versed in EHRs and computer technologies, they're typically responsible for recording and amending data that pertain to patient treatments, medical histories, and insurance information. They're also in charge of updating and verifying information as well as overseeing the transition of any paper documents to digital systems.
- Nurse informatics specialist: Registered nurses in this specialization combine their medical training, hands-on care experience, and IT skills to maintain and develop medical data and systems. While nurse informatics specialists share some of the duties of traditional nursing positions, their work mainly focuses on managing record-keeping protocols and implementing systems to create greater efficiencies and outcomes for patients, nurses, and other healthcare providers.
- Clinical informatics consultant: These professionals are responsible for helping healthcare organizations improve a particular aspect of their informatics operations. They may be called on to offer guidance to organizations considering a staffing increase in their health informatics department—or even determining whether they need to create such a department at all. Other times, clinical informatics consultants may train staff to use a particular technology or evaluate a facility's current processes to determine areas that could be made more efficient.
Director of clinical informatics education requirements
Some employers require director of clinical informatics candidates to hold a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree alongside a master's degree in a healthcare administration field and ample clinical experience.
Other employers don't require a medical background. Instead, they look for candidates with a master's degree in healthcare administration, health informatics, or a related discipline coupled with several years of IT or hospital administration experience.
As demand for this role increases, a growing number of graduate programs around the country are offering specialized programs to provide students with the in-depth training needed to pursue this field.
The Master of Science in Health Informatics program at the University of Pittsburgh and the Master of Health Administration program at New York University are both examples of degrees that cover both the technical side of clinical informatics as well as areas within overall organizational performance.
How much does a director of clinical informatics earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical informatics directors—who fall into the broader employment category of medical and health services managers—made a median annual wage of $100,980 in 2019. Salaries vary widely throughout this broad category, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $58,820 and the highest 10 percent pulling in more than $189,000.
The BLS notes that wages can also vary by employer. Directors of clinical informatics working at government agencies earned a median of $111,520 in 2019, while those employed by state, local, and private hospitals made a median annual wage of $110,430 during the same year. Nursing and residential care facilities reported the lowest median payout of all employers, offering professionals $86,820.
Among the job-recruiting websites that estimate salary:
- ZipRecruiter estimates salaries for clinical informatics directors at $115,509
- Glassdoor says directors of clinical informatics earn an average salary $85,495 plus incentive compensation of about $7,400.
- Salary.com reports a base salary for clinical informatics directors of a whopping $161,299.
Data at job-recruiting sites are self-reported and, for jobs of relatively low concentration in the workplace (such as this one), based on small data sets. That helps explain the wide variation among the sites' different results.
How many years does it take to become a director of clinical informatics?
The amount of time required to become a director of clinical informatics depends on whether you decide also to pursue training as a physician.
Pursuing this career as a physician
As mentioned, some employers require director of clinical informatics candidates to hold a medical or doctoral degree. The path to becoming a doctor in the U.S. varies by specialty. Generally, it requires completing a four-year undergraduate program, followed by four years in medical school and another three to seven years spent in residency training.
Somewhere along the line, they must also complete a graduate program in health informatics, healthcare administration, or a similar area of study, which often lasts two to three years and may include up to one year of supervised administrative experience in a healthcare setting. From here, they'll typically need to accumulate at least five years of experience in healthcare before actively pursuing work as a clinical informatics director.
In the end, training as a doctor and then transitioning into the role of director of clinical informatics will take 18 to 23 years.
Pursuing this career without a medical degree
Those who pursue director of clinical informatics jobs that don't require a medical or doctoral degree and residency training can start in the field quicker. Candidates will need to spend four years completing a bachelor's degree and then devote two to three years to a specialized master's program. They may also need to spend another year gaining administrative experience in a supervised program.
Additionally, though they won't need direct clinical experience, it's standard for aspiring clinical informatics directors on this track to have at least five years of IT or hospital administration experience. Still keeping time? By this point, anywhere from 11 years to 13 years have passed.
What's the typical advancement path for a director of clinical informatics?
Typical advancement opportunities for a director of clinical informatics include the role of chief compliance officer (CCO), an executive position responsible for leading all of a healthcare organization's compliance activities. These rules may be set by both internal and external regulations and include guidelines such as government mandates or agreements made with external stakeholders.
A director of clinical informatics may also advance to the title of chief medical information officer (CMIO). This c-suite position combines the tactical work of advising on and implementing IT with the strategy required to optimize clinical information systems to support overall organizational strategy.
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