By Joe Mitura

At the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation’s (AAMI’s) annual conference, there was a lot of talk about closing the gap between IT and biomed. Not that it was surprising, considering IT has become more and more involved with medical devices that can plug into a network, run diagnostics, pull logs and, at times, even be remotely controlled.

As a technical instructor, I often meet biomeds who are worried about staying relevant in the future due to this change. They tell me about how their departments are trying to handle the IT/biomed gap with actions such as mandatory lunch trainings and annual reviews on IT competency. Some biomed departments have even separated themselves from the rest of their hospital IT, running biomed-only networks. They ask me what they can do? How can they stay on top of the latest medical devices and networking?

As a professional immersed in the world of biomed for many years, I don’t have a clear-cut answer. But what I do know is that it is critical that they start investing time into learning IT—taking courses, watching YouTube videos or asking the younger “iPad generation” for help. One step that will certainly help is certification. It will distinguish you as someone who has specific knowledge and who took the time and effort to achieve it.

The first place to start is with the CompTIA Healthcare IT (HIT) Technician exam. CompTIA provides vendor-neutral certifications for the IT industry, and its HIT test focuses on information technology and hospital terminology within the health care setting. CompTIA’s Web site offers valuable information on exam details and provides sample questions, career-path discussions, and a list of hospitals hiring HIT-certified employees.

Preparing for the Test

Test takers are given an hour to complete the exam, which is comprised of 75 questions. To secure certification, you must get a score of 650 or above (based on a scale of 100-900). The beauty of obtaining biomed certification is that you already have some of the knowledge needed from your current experience—but here are some helpful tips on the best way to prepare:

Understand the objectives: Take time to look over the exam objectives, which include regulatory requirements (policies and standards), organizational behavior (IT’s role in health care), medical business operations (workflow analyses, electronic medical records), security (risk management, operational, network, and physical security), and IT operations. Most likely, you’re unfamiliar with the latter area. For this section, the CompTIA exam deals with computer hardware, architecture, software, networking, systems, and the project management surrounding IT in health care.

Sign up: As soon as you decide to take the test, sign up for it six to eight weeks in advance. Signing up is a huge motivator, and having a deadline gives you the structure needed for studying. Note: The test is expensive, so check with your employer to see if you can be reimbursed for it.

Study, study, study: There are certainly topics that you know, but you still have to bear down and study. After all, the test isn’t easy. First, buy a book with sample questions. (Take a look at those offered on Amazon and read the reviews before buying.) Read the book thoroughly at least once (preferably twice), know the sample questions inside and out, and take sample exams via a test generator. I often turn the sample questions into flashcards, which are great for the times you’re not connected to Wi-Fi—on a road trip, at the doctor’s office, or waiting to pick up your child. (For me, it’s karate class.)

Again, CompTIA’s certification site has a wealth of information, study guides, example questions, and links to multiple resources. It should be bookmarked on your computer throughout your multi-week study process.

Get experience: CompTIA recommends either A+ certification or 500 hours of experience. Start right now by going to your IT department, telling them about the test, and asking them for some loaner equipment to try out. The IT team might even be able to offer you clarity around some questions that you don’t understand. Not only will this help you study, it will also bridge that IT/biomed gap.

The Day of the Exam

You’ve put in weeks of studying to prepare for the CompTIA HIT exam and now the big day has arrived. Here are some day-of tips:

Know where you’re going: The test-taking facility may be somewhere you’ve never been to before, so map out the facility and the room where you need to be ahead of time. (I took the test at a college where the room was a 15-minute walk away from parking.) Arrive with plenty of time to find out where you need to be, use the restroom, get signed in, and calm down. Rushing will only make the test that much harder.

Know what you need: Be sure to bring a proper ID; some testing facilities, in fact, even require two forms of ID. But don’t bring anything that you don’t need. Many facilities prohibit electronics, paper/notes, or bags. They usually have a place to store things, but why add another layer of complexity to the day?

Watch the weather: Figure out the weather-cancellation policy. For example, if the facility is a college, then know what their policy is. I once had my test delayed for an hour due to the weather—but I still showed up on time, just in case.

The Actual Exam

You’ve signed in and you’re ready to conquer the exam. Here are five things you need to know:

  1. The test is electronic and may contain multiple-choice, scenario, and/or matching questions. The test also starts with an overview of how the questions are presented. It typically doesn’t take time away, so go over the sample to prepare.
  2. You might get writing materials to use during the test—use them. Mark down any questions you need to go back to, hints, or things you have a particularly hard time memorizing, such as port numbers, IP addresses, or types of medical departments. (What actually is otorhinolaryngology?)
  3. There is usually a “mark” or “remember for later” check box. If you don’t know the answer, simply click it to come back to it later. And remember, the test is only 60 minutes, so use your time wisely. At the end of the test, you will be given the decision to end or go back. If you have time, go back and recheck everything. It can’t hurt.
  4. When you’ve selected “finish,” simply wait for your score. I know you’ve passed, so congratulations! The testing coordinator should have your certificate on-site or you’ll be notified that it will come in the mail.
  5. If you weren’t successful, take note of the instructions about retaking the test. You’ve come this far, get back on that horse and try again!

Finally, go out and get your CompTIA HIT certification today and start bridging the gap between IT and biomed. You already have half of the test under your belt through your current biomed experience (but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study). And while the IT part will be challenging, you can do it!

Joe Mitura is a systems’ and network administrator and IT technical trainer at Draeger, Inc. For more information, contact chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].