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Aged-care nurse leads the way in new informatician qualification. 

An aged-care nurse has become the first Australian in the sector to receive a Certified Health Informatician Australasia (CHIA) qualification.

As the fifth nurse overall to gain the certification nationally, RN Donna Barton says she feels a great sense of personal achievement.

The program is a collaboration between The Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA), the Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI) and the Health Information Management Association of Australia (HIMAA).

Barton decided to get a CHIA qualification due to the lack of formal recognition for health informatics skills in the Australian workforce, particularly for nurses.

“I had looked around for some sort of course but there was nothing suitable,” she says. “I attended some informatics summer schools delivered by a local university, which really piqued my interest, and finally CHIA was offered by HISA.”

Barton stumbled into health informatics after years of clinical and operational experience, mostly in the aged-care sector.

“With the use of the internet, I became interested in how technology could change the way we practise nursing,” she says. “I was part of an online nursing forum and found a specialty called nursing informatics that seemed to align with the work I was doing at that time. During my online research, I found HISA and attended a nursing informatics conference and subsequently joined the special interest group NIA [Nursing Informatics Australia] and the rest is history.”

Barton says there are many healthcare professionals in Australia who are doing informatics-related roles whilst not knowing exactly what the discipline is. In describing her role, she says she applies software and devices to clinical documentation, using her knowledge of organisational policies, procedures, business operations, regulatory requirements, safety and quality standards and best practice.

Barton adds that because people are living longer with chronic disease, nurses will need to manage people’s clinical information and work with emerging technologies and different modes of care delivery.

“We will need to build a health workforce that can manage the change, take up the advocacy and social inclusion challenges and empower people to be involved in their own care management,” she says. “Nurses are the largest single group of clinicians in healthcare and are well placed to be the drivers of e-health and its adoption.”

Dr Jen Bichel-Findlay, vice-chair of the board for HISA and chair of the HISA NSW branch, agrees that nurses are ideally suited to the health informatics environment. “They [interact] with patients across the entire patient journey and therefore can recommend how processes can be transformed through the use of … technology,” she says. “The CHIA certification is a great way to demonstrate to potential employers, colleagues, peers and clients that you have core skills and knowledge in health informatics – skills and knowledge that are essential to deliver and manage the digital transformation of the healthcare sector.”

Richard Lawrance, CEO of HIMAA, agrees, saying, “Unlike in health information management or clinical coding, there are few dedicated and nationally recognised qualifications in health informatics for nurses.”

He says the nurse informatics program is for any health professionals interested in practicing in the field. The criteria for admission to the CHIA examination include having a degree or five years’ experience in a role relevant to health informatics.

Bichel-Findlay says the exam tests the individual’s broad expertise in, knowledge of and ability to apply health informatics principles, concepts, methods and skills.

“The CHIA exam covers a wide range of topics, within six major areas of competence considered essential to a health informatician in Australasia,” she says. “The test is thorough and requires preparation. Some candidates suggest undertaking it in a holiday or quiet time when you can really focus. I spent the December–January period studying for the examination.”

The 2.5-hour online exam consists of 104 questions. They are based on the 52 health informatics competencies in six domains, including information and communication technology, health and biomedical science, information science, management science, core principles and methods, and human and social context.

Candidates are given a list of reading resources once they register for the exam online. These address each tested competency.

A CHIA study guide that can help nurses prepare is in the final stages of preparation and will soon be released. “The guide provides detailed references for CHIA candidates to source and excerpts to study,” Lawrance says. “Other education providers will also offer fee-for-service learning support options down the track.”

As Bichel-Findlay explains, “Exam candidates are advised to prepare for the CHIA exam by reviewing the references listed in the study guide in conjunction with the CHIA Competencies Framework.”

Barton says the relevant study gave her the opportunity to engage and network with professionals, consumers and communities.

As the NSW representative for NIA, Barton says she hopes to use the certification to continue to work with the group and on collaborative forums to “help the transition to a 21st century workforce that spawns nurses capable of meeting challenges”.

“[I want to] encourage and mentor young nurses and other clinicians to accept the opportunity to embrace the information and communication technologies [that can] enhance health outcomes for those people they care for,” she says.

Barton also plans to be part of reference groups to enable personally controlled electronic health records to progress to full adoption in Australia.

Lawrance says nurses can use the informatician certification many ways, depending on their career goals.

“Many applicants for HIMAA’s nationally recognised VET-level clinical coding courses are nurses looking for a change from the front-line role,” he says. Nurses interested in building on their understanding of the management of information in the health system will study for a degree in health information management.

“Nurses with an interest in the more technical or clinical side of information may be interested in a credential in health informatics,” Lawrance explains. “This is where the CHIA will help them.”

Bichel-Findlay says the qualification can also bring about career opportunities. “Employers have expressed how difficult it is to find staff with the required health informatics skills and knowledge,” she says. “In the future, potential employers are likely to seek individuals with this qualification when looking for these skills.

“We expect more nurses to become interested as the CHIA certification becomes more widely known … We see many, many more nursing professionals wanting to receive the formal acknowledgement that certification brings.”

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