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Job: Clinical informatics specialist

The role: Clinical informatics specialists work with clinicians, technology companies and patients to integrate and optimize health-care technologies.

While the role was once confined to a hospital setting, and has existed as long as health records have been digitized, responsibilities and opportunities have expanded in recent years as the result of an explosion in digital health services.

“We used to be really focused on acute care,” explained Laurie Poole, vice president of clinical innovation at the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN). “As we start looking at care more in the home and the community, home-care organizations, hospitals and digital health organizations are utilizing [clinical informatics specialists], so it’s becoming a much more common role.”

Ms. Poole emphasizes that the role does not involve developing technology products, nor do clinical informatics specialists treat patients. “They don’t need to be a tech expert, but they’ll work with the technical team, they’ll work with business analysts, they’ll work with business managers, because it’s really about the work flow and integrating it into a digital tool so it’s more easily adopted,” she said.

Salary: Since many clinical informatics specialists are former licensed medical practitioners, Ms. Poole says that regulatory bodies and medical colleges often set salary expectations. For example, if a registered nurse in Ontario were to switch professions to become a clinical informatics specialist (their background in the field is obviously valuable), the Ontario Nursing Association would mandate salary expectations.

“It’s probably in the $55,000 to $60,000 range [annually] for entry-level,” she says, adding that mid-career professionals in the industry typically earn 20 to 25 per cent more, or roughly $66,000 to $75,000 annually, while senior level employees often earn between 40- or 50-per-cent higher salaries than entry level employees, or approximately $77,000 to $90,000 annually. “The salary expectation would also take into consideration their years of clinical experience, informatics background and additional experience,” adds Ms. Poole.

According to career resource websites and the median salary of a clinical informatics specialist in Canada is $71,211, and their average income is $68,830.

Education: While there are no formal licensing requirements, Ms. Pool – who serves as a guest lecturer in the University of Toronto’s clinical informatics program – says employers often expect a postsecondary degree, adding that a background in computer science or clinical health can be of benefit.

She adds that while there are some undergraduate level programs in the field, practitioners have a wide range of educational backgrounds and often earn a Master’s level specialization once already employed in the industry. “A lot of universities and colleges are very accommodating in terms of providing continuing education with online courses and flexible curriculums,” says Ms. Poole, adding that being “Master’s-ready” is an important quality for many employers in the field.

Job prospects: As the proliferation of health care tools and technologies continues, a wider array of organizations are seeking to employ clinical informatics specialists. Furthermore, demographic changes in the country are likely to result in a greater need for those who can bridge the gap between health-care providers, technology companies and patients.

“For the first time ever, Canada has more people over 65 than under 15, and this trend is projected to increase in the coming years,” Ms. Poole says. “We need to redesign our health care system, so this clinical informatics role will work with health care partners, technology vendors and patients to explore how digital tools such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc., can enable our aging society to live more independently.”

Challenges: The greatest challenge clinical informatics specialists face comes as a result of being responsible for promoting innovation and collaboration in a more traditional industry that’s accustomed to working in silos.

“Health care clinicians are very busy, and to change is very difficult, so you really have to come up with ways to make it very easy to introduce digital tools or virtual care into our health-care system,” Ms. Poole says.

Why they do it: Promoting innovation in large, legacy institutions has its frustrations, but Ms. Poole says the career rewards are “overwhelming,” as the role is designed to improve patient outcomes while reducing health-care costs.

“It’s actually a really exciting time, because we’re able to support patients, get them more engaged and get them more excited about how to care for themselves,” she said, adding that, statistically, more engaged patients “have a better quality of life, spend less time in the emergency room and there are fewer hospitalizations.”

Misconceptions: Ms. Poole says many remain under the impression that clinical informatics roles are limited to hospital settings, when they have since spread to a wide array of health-related institutions and organizations. Furthermore, while the role seeks to better integrate technology services into health care systems, contrary to popular belief, practitioners do not build those tools themselves.

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