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The field of health informatics encompasses many different careers that require varying levels of education. No state requires that any health informatics professionals hold a certification, but many employers require them and agree that earning them is a smart move.
Certifications in health informatics aren’t specific to job titles or specialties. Instead, the right certification for you is determined by your level of education and experience. There are certifications available for professionals at every level, meaning it’s never too early in your career to consider certification.
“Certified professionals are leading healthcare organizations through meaningful innovation,” says John Richey, MBA, RHIA, FAHIMA, director of academic education services for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the oldest and largest association offering certifications for health informatics professionals. “In an industry that values education and experience, AHIMA credentials and certifications are proof of a robust education and an ongoing commitment to staying relevant in a complex and evolving space.” AHIMA certifications are still the most recognized and required certificates by employers. However, they’re not the only option. Newer certifications are also available and might be a better fit for your informatics career.
Certificate vs Certification
- A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.
- A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.
In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.
Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.
Why Is Getting Certified Important?
Earning certification is a great way to stand out in the field. It shows that you’ve mastered the knowledge and skills you need to be successful in a health informatics career.
“Certification signifies experience and knowledge, and validates professional competency for employers, consumers, and yourself,” Richey says.
Many employers prefer or require that health informatics professionals they hire hold a certification. Another bonus? It may increase your earning potential.
“Seventy-five percent of AHIMA certified professionals earn $50,000 or more, many without a four-year baccalaureate,” Richey says.
Other benefits of certification, according to Richey, include:
- Demonstrated commitment to your professional area of expertise
- Proof to yourself and your employer that you will be able to contribute at a high level
- Education that gives you an edge over non-certified professionals
AHIMA and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) offer the primary certifications in health informatics. These aren’t the only certifications in the field, but they are the most popular. Each of the four most common certifications has different education requirements and is intended for a different level of your career.
What Certifications Are Most in Demand?
AHIMA has been offering certifications for health informatics professionals since the 1970s. These certifications have long been established as the industry standard, and employers around the country are more likely to require them than any other health informatics certification.
By contrast, HIMSS was founded in 2002 and has been only offering certifications for around 15 years. Since HIMSS certifications are much newer, they don’t have the recognition value associated with AHIMA certifications. However, demand for HIMSS certifications has increased over the past decade, and these certifications have the potential to become increasingly popular for the future of health informatics.
Which Certification Is Right for Me?
The right certification for you is the one that matches your education and experience level. Informatics professionals who are new in the field and don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree can consider the RHIT or CAHIMS certification. Informatics professionals with more education and experience can consider the RHIA or CPHIMS.
“It really depends upon where you’re at and where you want to go,” says Richey. “Many health information careers begin with a coding certification, then progress to one of the academic credentials.”
Keep in mind that the educational requirements for certifications vary. For the AHIMA certifications, you’ll need a degree in health informatics from a school that is accredited by CAHIIM. However, you can earn either HIMSS certification based on experience, even if your degree is in another field, or if you don’t have a degree at all.
This makes HIMSS certifications an appealing choice for healthcare professionals who’ve entered health informatics from another healthcare field. They allow you to earn certification without formal informatics education. For instance, registered nurses who transition to information management or informatics work would be able to pursue HIMSS certification without additional education.
Should I Earn Multiple Certifications?
In some cases, you might have the option of multiple certifications. For example, earning an associate degree in health information from a CAHIIM school would make you eligible for both the AHIMA RHIT and the HIMSS CAHIMS certifications. The right choice in this situation would be up to you, but there are a few factors to consider.
As mentioned above, AHIMA certifications have been around much longer and are more likely to be required by employers. There’s also a price difference between the exams. You’ll pay $299 to take the RHIT certification exam and $359 to take the CAHIMS certification exam.
Although it isn’t necessary to earn multiple certifications, if you meet the requirements and are willing to pay the fees, it might be a smart move. Earning certifications from both AHIMA and HIMSS will allow you to apply to the broadest range of employers.