Pharmacy OneSource Blog

Clinical Corner: The Evolving Role of the Healthcare Epidemiologist: Defining Boundaries to Improve Patient Care

Over the last two decades, the focus on healthcare-associated infection prevention has grown to play a critical role in the regulatory landscape, patient safety, and healthcare quality. Healthcare epidemiologists (HE) have been viewed as a key stakeholder in these efforts serving in a multitude of roles that include quality rapid cycle improvement, regulatory review, patient safety, clinical education, and administration of infection surveillance and infection process data.1

Historically, no clear framework or description of HE competencies has existed. Conversely, infection preventionists realize benefits from an established formal certification program through the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC).2

In a recent SHEA white paper, Kaye, K.S. et al outlined several core competencies of HEs in an attempt to describe attributes of a successful HE, sources of formal/informal training, and gaps in training opportunities. These efforts are being viewed as a pivotal first step in establishing standards by which all healthcare epidemiologists may be measured.

In a survey of SHEA membership, Wright and colleagues demonstrated that while HE responsibilities have expanded staffing and compensation levels continue to lag behind for healthcare epidemiology and infection control (HEIC) departments. Although 91% of the 526 respondents provided HEIC services, only 65% were specifically compensated as such.3 Understaffing was another common theme with only 25% of respondents having 3 or more infection preventionist FTEs. These trends are troubling and certainly must have influence on the ability of HEICs to drive infection control best practices and improve patient care.

Should healthcare epidemiologists adopt a formal certification program?

How do you think this would impact the HEIC departments and influence patient care?


1. Kaye, K. S., Anderson, D. J., Cook, E., Huang, S. S., Siegel, J. D., Zuckerman, J. M., & Talbot, T. R. (2015). Guidance for Infection Prevention and Healthcare Epidemiology Programs: Healthcare Epidemiologist Skills and Competencies. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 36(04), 369–380. doi:10.1017/ice.2014.79

2. Pogorzelska, M., Stone, P. W., & Larson, E. L. (2012). Certification in infection control matters: Impact of infection control department characteristics and policies on rates of multidrug-resistant infections. American Journal of Infection Control, 40(2), 96–101. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2011.10.002

3. Wright, S. B., Ostrowsky, B., Fishman, N., Deloney, V. M., Mermel, L., & Perl, T. M. (2010). Expanding roles of healthcare epidemiology and infection control in spite of limited resources and compensation. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology?: The Official Journal of the Society of Hospital Epidemiologists of America, 31(2), 127–132. doi:10.1086/650199

About the Author

Matt Weissenbach, MPH, CPH, CIC is currently the Director of Clinical Operations for Wolters Kluwer Health – Pharmacy OneSource. As a trained epidemiologist, Matt has significant experience within the healthcare informatics arena centered on leveraging automation to advance the fields of epidemiology and infection prevention. He has also been extensively involved in international public health, specifically infectious disease epidemiology and vector-borne diseases endemic to Southeast Asia. Matt is a member of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) at the national and local (NC) levels as well as a member of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA).

Matt received his Master of Public Health degree in Global Health Practice from the University of South Florida and is board certified in Public Health and Infection Control.

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