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April 23, 2012

The Value of HIT Competency Exams
By Lindsey Getz
For The Record
Vol. 24 No. 8 P. 8

There’s little doubt that the demand for HIT professionals is soaring. Various estimates, including one from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, project the need to be roughly 50,000 people to fill openings. For those seeking to enhance their prospects, gaining certification could be a difference maker.

The HIT Pro and the Certified Health Informatics Systems Professional (CHISP) competency exams are two options available for fledging HIT professionals. Both exams aim to validate an individual’s knowledge and understanding of critical concepts and skills in the HIT field.

Exactly which exam is the best fit depends on current career standing and career goals. With more hospitals and health networks moving into the EHR adoption phase, it’s becoming increasingly important for job candidates to be able to prove themselves as being qualified to handle the challenges.

Offered by the American Society of Health Informatics Managers (individuals must be ASHIM members to sit for the exam), CHISP designates a qualified professional as capable of meeting the needs of hospitals and physician practices as they adopt EHRs. The exam, which costs $260, indicates that a professional has met a defined skill set of core competencies needed in the HIT profession regardless of career path.

“[The exam] is for the individual who already has a skill set but is looking to augment that skill set in order to become a better match in the HIT marketplace,” explains Stephanie Cecchini, CPC, CEMC, CHISP, an executive-level healthcare sales and operations consultant in Salt Lake City. “For instance, you may have an IT person coming over from another industry or maybe even coming out of the military. They have the IT experience, but they don’t have a healthcare background. What CHISP does is to say that the individual is certified on the core competencies that would be necessary to work in an HIT-specific field.”

A three-hour timed exam, CHISP features 250 multiple-choice questions designed to evaluate healthcare regulations, computer science, medical insurance billing, data security, medical terminology and anatomy, operational principles in healthcare, data mining, and technology in quality of care.

“It goes through all of the core competencies,” Cecchini says. “Basically any technology associated with health IT is covered. It’s quite extensive in covering a basic overview of everything, including even anatomy terminology at a conversational level. I would say that CHISP is general coverage of the entire concept of HIT. If an individual is looking for more individualized training, that’s where the HIT Pro competency exam may be of interest.”

When the HITECH Act became law, requiring hospitals and healthcare affiliates to convert to EHRs, it was obvious to most observers that the HIT workforce would need to be strengthened. From there, the idea for the HIT Pro competency exam was born. In conjunction with grants being offered to community colleges to train students in a specific HIT function, the exam is part of the Health and Human Services’ Workforce Development program and aims to confirm students are ready to meet the nation’s need for more HIT workers.

Besides confirming newcomers’ knowledge, the exam is also valuable to existing HIT professionals as a means to validate their knowledge. “It is important that professionals with health information credentials have a way to validate their body of knowledge so that employers can recognize them as true leaders as we begin to embrace a conversion to EHRs,” says Kay Gooding, MPH, MAEd, RHIA, project director of Region D’s HITECH workforce training program.

The exam is currently offered for free and will continue to be so at least through April 2013. “Now is the time to take this exam, while it’s still being offered for free,” says Gooding. “We’re working toward sustainability in education, but I cannot tell you the exact future of this exam as funding is scheduled to cease in April 2013. I would urge people to sign up and take it now.”

Unlike CHISP, the HIT Pro exam is workforce-role driven, focusing on the following six occupations: clinician/practitioner consultant, implementation manager, implementation support specialist, practice workflow and information management redesign specialist, technical/software support staff, and trainer. The exams are intended for individuals who have been trained through a short-duration, nondegree HIT program or are existing members of the workforce with relevant experience.

Getting Prepared
Making use of day-to-day work experiences and classroom education can make sitting for CHISP less strenuous. At minimum, an RHIT would need a class in basic SQL language as well as a solid introduction to computer sciences and data security. “You also need to understand EHRs and the technology that makes them work,” says Cecchini. “You already understand workflow and how different departments relate. For most, it’s just a little bit of honing up on the technology skills, and that’s not as hard to do as it may sound. There are even free programs out there on SQL. Also, the training programs offered through the American Society of Health Informatics Managers are excellent.”

Amy Bledsoe, RHIA, an HIM instructor at Spokane Community College in Washington, says the HIT Pro test is an excellent complement to the information taught in the school’s HIT program. “Students could just go over some of the materials they’ve been taught in the course and would be well prepared,” she says. “Professionals may just want to take some time brushing up their knowledge. As something that is being offered for free, it’s worth the personal satisfaction that you get by validating your knowledge. It also makes you more competitive in the job market.”

“Both exams are great, it just really depends on where you’re looking to work in health IT and where you currently are in your career that will help determine which is best for you,” Cecchini adds. “CHISP is going to be a general coverage of the entire concept whereas the HIT Pro will be specific to a job title. Both exams are respected by employers and would help your career.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.