April 7 , 2008

Covering the CIIP Certification Bases
By J. K. Bucsko
Radiology Today
Vol. 9 No.7 P. 6

Since I last wrote about the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine’s (SIIM) fledgling program to provide uniform imaging informatics testing and certification in late 2006, two classes have graduated, bringing the total number of certified imaging informatics professionals (CIIPs) to 183. During the first exam held June 2007, 99 of 103 candidates passed; the second exam in September 2007 yielded 84 successful test takers out of 96 candidates.

The CIIP exam is administered by the American Board of Imaging Informatics (ABII), which was founded in 2007 by SIIM and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) to devise and oversee a uniform imaging informatics professional (IIP) certification process. Today the ABII operates as an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing and enhancing professionalism in medical informatics, with the CIIP exam being its most prominent activity. The board comprises seven members, three appointed by SIIM and three by the ARRT, who must be actively employed in the field of imaging informatics, plus one public member who is not employed in the field.

The ABII adheres to the guidelines of the American National Standards Institute and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and has set NCCA accreditation for the CIIP program as a short-term goal. Before granting accreditation, the NCCA requires a program to provide specified documentation of various aspects of the exam, as well as to have been administering exams for at least one year prior to application or to have administered 500 exams.

Eliminating RT vs. IT
Perhaps the most essential question addressed by the IIP certification process isn’t even on the exam itself: Is it better for PACS professionals to specialize in radiology technology (RT) or IT? The answer, according to the involved organizations, is that both roles are equally vital. The CIIP exam has been expressly designed to test expertise and experience in IT and RT concepts, and the ABII awards a single certification without differentiating levels or areas of competency.

To ensure that both disciplines are well represented, the ABII has established a point system for meeting specific eligibility. A candidate needs a total of seven points according to the following measures:

Experience: One point is awarded per 12 months of work experience in a medical imaging- or imaging informatics-related field, with a minimum requirement of 2 points to a maximum of 5 points.

Education: Education points are not cumulative but are assessed based on the level of education for a maximum of 5 points for a graduate degree. An associate’s or equivalent certificate program counts as 2 points; even without a degree, candidates who have accumulated at least 30 credit hours are awarded 1 point.

Credentials and Continuing Education: One point is assessed for each 18 hours’ worth of continuing education credits in imaging informatics and related disciplines completed within 18 months of the date of exam application, plus 1 point each for various IT and clinical credentials. Credentials can include certification from the ARRT, the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, the American Society for Quality, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, the National Association of Communications Systems Engineers, and numerous other professional organizations and programs.

The ABII’s point system is deliberately flexible to accommodate varying areas of skill and types of training among candidates from both sides of the fence. One key reason for this exam design is that the ABII, like its parent groups, is trying to move away from the PACS professional label, preferring the wider imaging informatics categorization. The current exam’s test content outline was created to present questions across the broadest range of topics that a medical informatics professional might encounter daily.

The exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions divided among 10 primary domains, each of which is assigned a percentage toward the final score. The 10 domains are the following:

• procurement (5%);

• project management (5%);

• operations (10%);

• communications (10%);

• training and education (5%);

• image management (20%);

• IT (15%);

• systems management (10%);

• clinical engineering (10%); and

• medical informatics (10%).

Exam questions are formulated by a team of imaging informatics specialists from various backgrounds, including physics, medicine, RT and IT, communications, engineering, and other related disciplines. These experts compile a database of relevant areas and create a unique subset of questions for each exam. This database of questions is routinely updated and expanded, and psychometric testing is used to validate every question before inclusion in an exam. Exam questions are periodically replaced by new ones drawn from the database.

Understanding how test questions are designed and selected is important because the process ensures that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to prepare for the exam. Various CIIP prep courses and study programs have now sprung up, including ones from SIIM, as well as from the leading commercial provider, Otech. But the ABII does not endorse any particular program. This means no particular study course can claim to be based on the actual examination.

“The certification is appropriate for anyone performing the role of the IIP as described by the ABII,” says an ABII spokesperson. “We already have CIIPs in Canada, Denmark, and Taiwan, as well as the U.S. We hope that over time, the CIIP will be recognized as the gold standard for IIPs everywhere.”

Exam Applications
The Imaging Informatics Professional Certification examination is held approximately twice per year, generally in March and September. The test is administered via computer at some 120 Pearson VUE centers around the United States, Canada, and at several international sites. To register for an upcoming exam sitting, candidates must set up an ABII Web site account to submit credentials and pay the exam authorization fee. The ABII determines eligibility and notifies each candidate via e-mail, assigning a unique exam access number.

Pearson VUE requires test takers to first create a Web account using the ABII number. Once the account is activated, the company e-mails confirmation of the test date and time and provides the address, phone number, and directions to the closest test center. The Pearson VUE Web site also provides an online locator tool to search for centers by city, state, and zip code so candidates can find all available exam sites.

The initial exam fee is $400, and recertification is required every five years. Candidates who don’t pass the exam the first time can retake it up to three times within three years; after that, the candidate must reestablish eligibility by reapplying via the point system. Although points awarded for academic degrees can be carried over, reestablishing eligibility requires earning new points for experience and continuing education, separate from those recognized when establishing initial eligibility, according to the ABII spokesperson.

The next CIIP examination is scheduled for September 26, with online registration beginning April 15 and continuing through July 20. For more details, including the full list of eligibility credentials, the complete test content outline, and application instructions, visit www.abii.org or call 651-994-6410. To locate testing centers, visit www.pearsonvue.com/abii.

J. K. Bucsko is a freelance writer and editor based in Westville, N.J.