March 8th
Healthcare Informatics Consultants: Are you Really Hiring an Expert?

   When hospitals hire consultants, many assume that all consultants are experts in the healthcare informatics field and have the education and experience to back it up. While this may be true for some of the consultants in the field, we are seeing an ever increasing amount of consultants in the field that are far from experts in either IT or healthcare. Why is this happening? Because of the boom in healthcare informatics, largly due to healthcare facilities trying to meet Meaningful USE (MU) standards, there is a strong need for people in the field and with that can come large paychecks. This large amount of money hasn't gone unoticed by people working in fields that are in less demand and pay less. People from all types of fields (non clinical/IT) have been slipping into healthcare informatics to cash in on the available pay, even though they do not have the background to justify it. In the healthcare informatics consultants arena, it is a "buyer beware" market.

   Just as physical therapists that went from a bachelors degree to a masters, and then to a doctorate withing a few decades to protect the integrity of the field, healthcare informatics needs to do the same or we will see the field degrade to the point where we are irrelevant. Until the time when standards are put into place, it is the resposibility of the hiring facility to set their own high standards to assure that they attract consultants who are experts in the field.

   When hiring an informatics consultant, the first consideration must be their education. If the role of the consultant includes the understanding of clinical flows and processes or medications, the consultant should have a clinical degree such as a registered nurse. WHile registered nurses only need an associates degree to practice, those with bachelors and masters degrees in nursing will have a more advanced understanding of their profession. If the consultants role is purely software build without access or interation with medications, you could consider a non-clinical person with a bachelors degree in IT, such as computer information systems. Of course, if you can find a person that has degrees in both healthcare and IT with experience in both, you would have the best of both worlds.

   Beyond the initial check for the consultants education, you will next query them for their experience with the particular application(s) that you need them to consult for. This is an area where you need to be careful and not fall into the trap of hiring someone because they simply worked with that application in a particular hospital. The reason for the caution is that many many small hospital IT departments hire unqualified people. This happens because the hospital is only concerned that their medical professionals are licensed and qualified for their positions, therefore leaving the IT department to do as they want. Often, in this type of environment, friends and familiy of the IT staff end up getting hired instead of bringing in education and qualified personal. If your needs are simply to have someone with IT knowledge do some data entry, then you can easily hire a new college grad with an IT degree for $15 an hour. However, if you are hiring a consultant, then your needs are probably for an experienced profesional and not a new grad.

Consultants are paid a premium because they not only know how to do the basic job, they should have education and in-depth clinical knowledge that make them valuable resources for you project from start to finish. As an example, you could pay anyone to sit and enter the data into a computer for orders builds. However, if this person has an in-depth knowledge of the clinical flow and medications involved, they will be able to recognize issues and address them beore the issue becomes a major problem and causes damage to the project timeline and budget.

If you are the hiring agennt for your hospital/project, do yourself and you facility a favor and set the requirements for your consultants so that you know you will be recieving only highly experienced and educated professionals. Recommended Education:
   1. Healthcare Degree - Bachelor degree or greater in nursing or respiratory therapy. Pharmacist if medication builds are involved.
   2. IT Degree - Bachelor degree or greater. Computer information systems degree for software/programming or networking degree for server work.