Recruiting doctors to the data side

8 minute read

Once an esoteric career path, health informatics is starting to go more mainstream

Once an esoteric career path, health informatics is starting to go more mainstream, partly as a consequence of the rapid rise of e-health, but also from some interesting efforts to recruit and professionalise new talent.

After finishing a stint with Telstra Health as the CEO of Readycare, an optimistic tilt by our largest digital health company at an elusive local telehealth market, GP Dr Amandeep Hansra, was determined to persist with the digital health side of her career.  

Though Readycare had been a tough early gig, Dr Hansra enjoyed the challenges of combining her clinical and analytical skills in a commercial context and the creativity that required.

With a Fellowship of the Australasian College of Health Informatics under her belt, she wondered about the line between clinician and technologist, and why other doctors like her might not be interested in the rapidly emerging challenges in digital health.

She then expanded her idea to include any alternative, but creative, career that still used medicine. And she then decided to put the whole idea to test in a conference about “creative careers in medicine”.

Creative Careers In Medicine (CCIM) is a series of events (and now consulting) where doctors who have developed alternative careers outside of being mainly a clinician, talk to doctors who are currently practising, but are interested in being a little more lateral in their career path.

The event immediately took off. Dr Hansra was even taken aback by the response, which initially nearly overwhelmed organisers of the first two events.

After only 12 months, from a standing start, and with no capital for marketing or set up, a Facebook group of more than 3500 interested doctors was established.

The next CCIM is on the Gold Coast in Queensland on August 3 and 4. It  has expanded to a two-day event and includes career workshops and host of other interesting formats. Dr Hansra and her helpers are expecting up to 800 attendees. That’s a lot of doctors with an itch to do something a little different.

CCIM is now also being contacted and contracted by various peak clinical groups, such as the AMA, to help them provide alternative career services roadshows and advice to their members.

It isn’t a total surprise that once a doctor has finished an often more-than 10- year journey as a student of medicine, and having experienced the hurly burly of hospital life, and perhaps the sometimes loneliness of the GP practice room, many are thinking there might be a life for them out there beyond straight medicine.

There’s a few poster children of medically trained doctors whose creative whims got the better of them. Dr George Miller, creator and director of the Mad Max film franchise, comes to mind. But the list isn’t particularly long. Former Greens leader Bob Brown perhaps, if you think politics is actually creative in any way?

In terms of digital health, the doctors you tend to run across with a serious health informatics career tend to be the same ones that have been around for quite a long time. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s a great group of experts with a lot of knowledge. It’s just that if you really want influence today and into the future, it would be ideal if there were a healthy supply of up-and-comers with new ideas and energy entering the system.

Put another way you might say, “infiltrating the ‘cult’ of the doctor, with some aim of changing things from within what is a substantial power base in the decision-making protocols of any health system”.

In terms of professionalism in health informatics being combined with a medical degree and experience, it is difficult to actually get a sense of the numbers in Australia. Some gauge might be available if you look at the number of “clinicians” that have achieved a Certified Health Informatician Australasia (CHIA) , a short but intense achievement record, created by the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) in partnership with Health Information Management Association of Australia (HIMAA) and the Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI).

CHIA is Australia’s professional/industry certification in health informatics and it recognises persons working in a professional capacity in health informatics, but who may not actually have a health informatics qualification. Most such qualifications are only obtainable at the Masters level.

There have been more than 450 people who have completed the CHIA since its launch in 2013. Of the successful CHIAs, 192 are noted as having some sort of clinical background, but that isn’t necessarily as doctors. It includes healthcare professionals with a nursing or allied health background, and other non medical qualifications.

These figures likely make the number of medically trained doctors with experience who are working in this space to be fairly low.

Does that mean doctors aren’t particularly interested in a career in digital health or health informatics?

Dr Hansra has some recent data from her CCIM cohort that would suggest quite the opposite.

In a recent posting to her CCIM facebook page, she flushed out more than 40 doctors who expressed an immediate interest in doing the CHIA course as some sort of entrée to a new career path.

Probably only once before has HISA had so much interest expressed in one go to do the course – the Queensland Health department offered to fund the cost of the programs for its staff recently, and nore than 100 staff applied.

HISA’s CEO, Dr Louise Schaper (PhD), flew to Brisbane to brief the first group of the potential new recruits and emphasised the program took about three months of fairly hard study, was quite difficult to pass, and should not be taken lightly.

Following that dampening down, the amount of interested applicants actually rose to about 130. Queensland Health now has an ongoing CHIA program.

Dr Hansra is delighted with the response. She says it might point to a latent, and thus-far untapped, resource in digital health.

She also believes that if there is a groundswell of interest from doctors then we might even start to address the very real issue that confronts most digital health transformation projects: systemic clinician buy-in from the outset.

“Co-design” is perhaps the most-used buzzword in digital health transformation projects. It involves all stakeholders, of course, patients being a major one.

But doctors, for their knowledge, and pivotal decision-making role in a networked health system, are of course critical.

Dr Schaper says the CHIA course is more about acknowledgement of a professional level of digital health knowledge, rather than an entry-level course for those looking to get into health informatics.  In fact, she stresses it is not a qualification at all in the sense of a degree or diploma. It is an acknowledgement that you are able to understand and interpret 52 competencies relevant to health informatics.

But that does not discount a doctor without much of an informatics background doing the course. Doctors have a very important qualification in health that provides them with an ability to provide informatics and digital insights that others in the field, such as classically trained IT experts, just won’t have.

“The idea [of CHIA] is that we aren’t discounting the depth of knowledge that people of various backgrounds can bring to the field. That depth and diversity is an asset,” Dr Schaper said.

“CHIA is a common framework that acknowledges that an individual has base level of information about health informatics.”

Dr Schaper, who has a PhD in informatics, says the CHIA course is now starting to gain enormous traction, and a continuing professional development component to the certification, which requires a certain level of ongoing education around health informatics to be done over a three-year cycle.

The ultimate goal of the CHIA initiative is contributing to the professionalisation of the health informatics workforce, so it is a far more recognised career for professionals with a variety of other healthcare backgrounds.

Dr Schaper and Dr Hansra are combining forces to take the CCIM group of doctors through the CHIA course in the near term. Both think the interest and the trend might be the tip of the iceberg.

“There is so much interest, growth and momentum in digital health now”, Dr Schaper told The Medical Republic.

Dr Amandeep Hansra will be presenting our “most interesting health start ups” session at the upcoming Wild Health in Sydney on June 25, NanoScience Hub Theatre at Sydney University. Full program is HERE, and Early Bird tickets are HERE. She will also be talking on the subject of the need for more creativity in digital health transformation.

 If you’re a doctor and interested in the CHIA course and HISA membership, CLICK HERE

 If you’re interested in attending the CIIM conference on the Gold Coast in early August at the QT hotel, a taste of what you can expect is below, but if you want in now, CLICK HERE and use the promo code TMR2019 for a $50 discount on your ticket.

Wild Health Insights Promotional Code for our upcoming one day summit on interoperability in Australia is WHP1. To use, just click the link below, click the green tickets button and enter the code in the top right hand corner. The code gets you a 15% discount of the Early Bird rate on all ticket types.

EARLY BIRD TICKETS to Wild Health Summit  on interoperability in  Sydney on June 25 HERE

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