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Professionalising Health Informatics

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Informatics Professionalism is like a rainbow

Gwyn Thomas

Becoming a chief information officer in the NHS is a big step. To recognise this, the Health CIO Network is putting together a handbook for new health CIOs; and, indeed, practising CIOs who want to reflect on aspects of their job.

Prof Gwyn Thomas, has contributed a chapter on Informatics Professionalism which is reproduced below.

Informatics Professionalism is like a rainbow


Professionalism is like a rainbow: wondrous to behold but complicated to explain; easy to spot but difficult to pin down.

At work, one of the highest accolades that you can be given is to be called a “true professional”. It’s a simple phrase that sums up the blending and integration of a variety of skills.

Professionalism tends to be thought of as conducting yourself within a code of ethics, with integrity, accountability, and excellence.

It means communicating effectively and appropriately and always finding a way to be productive. High quality work standards, honesty, and respect for others are also part of the package as are teamwork and collaboration.

“Professionalism is doing the right thing when no-one else is looking.”

Why is professionalism important?

Professionalism is the cornerstone for building a reputation that commands the respect of society; to be considered the equal of other professionals such as lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, architects and accountants.

Being seen by others as a professional is the foundation for gaining recognition for your abilities and achievements. Being a professional is important because it is a way to invest in yourself.

What is a professional?

A professional is someone who cares enough about what they do to take personal responsibility for self-improvement. They are prepared to broaden their capabilities and face up to the personal accountability required to work in the service of others.

A professional never stops learning, not just for the sake of learning, but to be better at what they do. A professional believes that lifelong learning enhances their self-image and that, by applying their skills in accordance with a code of practice, they will earn the respect of others.

A professional is an individual who:

  • Takes responsibility for their own actions
  • Is prepared to justify their decisions and actions
  • Keeps up to date with their field of knowledge
  • Abides by ethical principles and standards of behaviour
  • Contributes to leadership in their profession.

“Your reputation as a professional is determined by the lowest standard that you tolerate, not the highest that you have achieved.”

How do you achieve professionalism? A few ‘golden rules’

Learning – “What you know”

  • Practise critical thinking; contribute to the knowledge base
  • Show appreciation for scholarship and research; understand the theoretical foundation of ideas and actions
  • Read current journals; keep abreast of technical advances
  • Participate in conferences; learn ‘on-the-job.’

Action – “What you do”

  • Actively support a professional body; live up to its values
  • Share your knowledge and experience freely; take advantage of the knowledge and experience of others
  • Evaluate your professional practice; confront your own shortcomings and those of your fellow professionals
  • Speak up for your profession; don’t talk it down.

Behaviour – “How you do it”

  • Strive towards self improvement; commit to personal development
  • Reflect on your successes and on your failures; seek out the perspectives of others
  • If you say you are going to do something, then do it; but when necessary say “no” without fear or guilt
  • Turn up on time; be aware of the impact of your behaviour on others.

Why have professional bodies been created?

Professional bodies have been set up to further the interests of their individual members by providing independent collective leadership to enhance the profession’s reputation and influence.

Professional bodies also have an important role in safeguarding the public interest through defining, maintaining and enforcing high standards of training and ethics.

Many professional bodies also act as learned societies for the academic disciplines underlying their professions. They are involved in the development and monitoring of educational programmes, and the updating of skills. This may include certification to indicate that a person possesses relevant qualifications in the subject area.

What is the value of registration with a professional informatics body?

Public registers have been set up for the common good; to protect the public through the application of professional standards and the regulation of individuals who fall below them. They are an essential component in building and maintaining public trust and professional reputation.

Professional registration promotes high standards of behaviour and ethics. Registration with a professional body is, in some cases, a legal requirement and the primary basis for gaining entry and setting up practice.

Registers are risk based, which is why some are a mandatory legal requirement or part of a licence to practise, while others are voluntary. They are open to all so anyone (public or employers) can look up the details of a registered practitioner when they are making decisions about:

  • Employment
  • Use of services
  • Raising concerns
  • Making a complaint.

Taking personal action to join a publicly open register is a demonstration that you are prepared to face up to a moral obligation to apply your knowledge and skills in ways that benefit society as a whole or, at the very least, “do no harm.”

What is the value of professional informatics registration for the public and patients?

The public and patients can be assured that:

  • Their personal information will be held securely and safely by qualified professionals with due regard to their rights to access, protect and share their own information
  • Clinical staff are supported by certificated informatics professionals in their use of knowledge, information and digital technology
  • Digital information systems in health and social care are designed, implemented and managed by competent professionals who have signed up to a code of conduct and are maintaining their competence in their areas of expertise
  • They can look up the public register of informatics professionals to see whether the people responsible for handling their information have up to date qualifications and experience
  • Any complaints they have about the failure to adhere to professional standards in the handling of their information will be investigated independently and appropriate action taken.

What are the benefits of membership of a professional informatics body?

Individual members will be able to:

  • Demonstrate that they are qualified and accountable
  • Be supported in mapping out a clear path to career advancement
  • Speak with an independent collective voice to influence policy and practice and gain recognition for their professional contribution
  • Increase any employer’s confidence that they have the skills required for the role for which they are applying or in which they are currently being employed
  • Assure employers that they are committed to conducting themselves in a safe and professional manner
  • Access a network of peers to share learning, ideas and good practice
  • Come together to bring about change and “give something back”
  • Connect with users and subject matter experts to build understanding of requirements and avoid repeating the mistakes of others.

There are other wider, public interest benefits too:

  • When making job appointments or dealing with complaints, employers will be able to find out:
    • the qualifications and experience of an individual practitioner through the public register, their date of registration and its expiry
    • the qualifications / criteria that are necessary for an individual to be on the register and remain on it, and how they are assessed.
  • There will be a clear code of conduct to which individual professionals will be accountable for compliance.
  • There will be a clear complaints process, simple and easy to use for both organisations and individuals.
  • Information on whether an individual has had a finding against them, and what sanctions were taken will be publically available.
  • There will be an independent, confidential, whistleblowing mechanism for:
    • staff to raise issues of professional misconduct of their organisation or working colleagues
    • investigations into breaches of professional codes of practice or failure to adhere to professional standards of professional.
  • There will be clear definition of the implications of misconduct, breaches or failure.
  • Annual registration includes the requirement for continuing professional development which will allow public demonstration that skills and knowledge are being kept up to date.

So, what’s the minimum commitment required from every Chief Information Officer?

If they really want to be considered a professional, never mind an information leader, then every CIO should:

  • Join a licensed professional body to appear on the register of the Federation for Informatics Professionals (Fed-IP); and live up to the values and code of practice
  • Take an active role in national and local professional groups and networks; offer their knowledge freely and openly for the benefit of others
  • Adopt the “golden rules”; and use them to promote the culture of informatics professionalism with peers and colleagues
  • Speak up for the informatics profession; be an advocate through what you do as well as what you say
  • Share your successes and your failures; help the profession speak with a credible voice capable of using our collective experience to shape policy and practice
  • Make sure that everyone in your team understands the importance of meeting professional standards in everything they do; make sure that they have an up-to-date set of organisational objectives, a personal development plan and support for developing their career.

Further reading:

To find out more about professionalism and why you should take it seriously, have a look at the following:

  1. Federation for Informatics Professionals
  2. “Professionalism in healthcare professionals”
    – report by the Health & Care Professions Council published May 2014
  3. The Professional Standards Authority
  4. “Dilemmas and Lapses”
    – Report by the National Clinical Assessment Service 2009
  5. The Engineering Council
    – Benefits of Professional Registration

A New Vision for the Informatics Profession in Health & Social Care

The UK Council of Health Informatics Professions, BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and the Institute of Health Records and Information Management (IHRIM) are working collaboratively to create a new federation for the Informatics profession. The three autonomous bodies are working to ensure that health informatics is recognised as a valued profession across the UK.  Other relevant professional bodies will be welcome and encouraged to join the Federation which is to be called the Federation for Informatics Professionals in Health and Social Care.

This short video produced with ITN Productions explains more.


The Federation for Informatics Professionals website will be launched shortly. Meanwhile news and updates will be listed here.


Fed-IP Developments

Fed-IP Developments

UKCHIP was established in 2003 as the voluntary registration body for persons working in health informatics. It sets standards of conduct and competence across the range of constituencies that make up the profession of informatics in health and care; it accredits people against the standards and maintains a public register of those who have met the criteria at one of three levels, taking account of professional and academic qualifications as well as practical experience in both healthcare and informatics.

UKCHIP registration demonstrates “fitness to practice” and is beneficial in helping to minimise risks to patients and service users, and assuring the public and employers that their health information and systems are designed, operated and maintained by competent professionals – you could think of it as the informatics equivalent of GMC registration for doctors.

Membership of a professional body offers professional status, qualifications, communities of interest and networking opportunities. However membership of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, for example, does not at the moment set any specific requirements to demonstrate competence in health informatics, although like other professional bodies, BCS has a specialist interest group – BCS Health, (which now incorporates the recently closed BCS ASSIST) which interested members may join.

It has been recognised for some time that more needs to be done to benefit and support individuals working in the informatics profession, in both health and social care. Over the past year or so, work has been ongoing to bring together the registration function of UKCHIP and the activities of relevant professional bodies under a single organisation: the Federation for Informatics Professionals (Fed-IP) working in health and social care.

The federation members will comprise the professional bodies relevant to health and social care informatics and so far include BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT; CILIP, the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals; and IHRIM, the Institute of Health Records and Information Management. There has also been liaison with the new Faculty of Medical Informatics being developed under the auspices of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, and it has been jointly agreed, by UKCHIP Council members and the representatives of the professional bodies, that UKCHIP will become the Fed-IP corporate organisation.

Fed-IP will set and maintain standards of professional competence and conduct for individuals working in health and care informatics and publish a register of persons who have met the standards. It will also act as an independent single voice for the profession and the Fed-IP member professional bodies will be licenced to apply the standards when assessing applications for membership by individuals working in health and care; individual membership of a licenced professional body will be a prerequisite for Fed-IP registration.

Work on the transition of UKCHIP to Fed-IP is in its final stages but the new Fed-IP register and registration procedures are not yet fully developed. Consequently, the current UKCHIP register will continue to operate for the time being, albeit under the auspices of Fed-IP; current registrants will be able to renew and new applications will continue to be accepted.   Individuals who are still not members of a Fed-IP professional body will be encouraged to join one to maintain their registration and as soon as it is appropriate, all current registrants at the time will be transferred automatically to the new Fed-IP register.

The establishment of Fed-IP is being supported in England as part of the National Information Board’s Framework Personalised Health and Care 2020 (PHAC20).

Click here for the latest developments at the National Information Board.

Why this initiative is essential

beverley-bryantNHS England Director of Strategic Systems and Technology, Beverley Bryant explains why professionalism in health and social care informatics is essential.

View video 

Establishment of a Faculty of Medical Informatics

A joint proposal from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to explore the feasibility of setting up a Faculty of Medical Informatics has been unanimously supported by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

The longer term aim of this work will be to address the Professional concerns that are specific to health care professionals involved in, or planning a career in, Clinical Informatics. These concerns are currently most acute for medically qualified Clinical Informaticians who as a result of quinquennial revalidation face the very real risk losing their General Medical Council registration if nothing is done. The primary focus for the proposed Faculty will therefore be to put in place a robust remedy for this most pressing problem; this will include exploring the feasibility of creating a new Medical sub speciality of Medical Informatics.  It is expected that the Faculty will also wish to explore ways of supporting Clinical Informaticians from other health care professions.

Work is now under way and is being led by the RCGP and RCP.  All who are involved in this have been committed from the outset to collaborating closely with the Federation for Informatics Professionals.

Local Networks

Fed-IP is encouraging local CIO Networks to set up a sub-group, including representatives from Local Government, to take the lead on Professionalism  and to liaise with Fed-IP to help to shape future direction and plans.  Key Objectives Network annual plans include:

  1. Developing and Implementing Professional Standards
  2. Increasing Registration & Professional Membership
  3. Improving Communications and Engagement.

Contact Fed-IP

To contact the Federation for Informatics Professionals, email

You can now also follow Fed-IP on Twitter