Technical Skills in Healthcare IT – Databases, Troubleshooting, & SQL

technical skills in healthcare

One challenge about Healthcare IT is balancing the need for technical skills in healthcare with all the other skills needed to succeed- clinical, interpersonal, and process-related to name a few. On this page, we’ll assume you don’t have extensive technical skills, but want to learn enough to succeed in Healthcare IT. The skills that I’m highlighting here will help you, even if you don’t pursue an overtly technical role.

Basic Technical Skills That Everyone Can Learn

Excel, More Than Just The Basics:

I’m assuming you have at least some understanding of Microsoft Excel. In Healthcare IT, you will at some point need to use Excel to do something with Healthcare-related data. Here are some examples of some of what you may run into:

Function Example: Why would I do this?
How to find duplicates in a spreadsheet You’ve been given a list of meds, supplies, employees that hasn’t been maintained well and needs to be cleaned up before importing into a new system
How to find the differences in two rows or columns of data You have a list of top 100 items ordered in two different locations, and just want the top 50 inclusive of both locations
How to filter on data You need to quickly see just the items ordered from one location, or under one person’s name
How to import a plain text file of records into Excel Someone has kept a manual list of top items ordered on a Word document, and that data now needs to be imported into a new system, and there are too many entries to manually type them in.

As you might imagine, there are countless resources on the internet to offer help with Excel. YouTube videos are a great tool because you will see lots of step-by-step examples. As for websites to help with Excel, I really like Settingbox, the creation of Sudheer Tammini.

Basics of Database Structure

In the most basic terms, a database is a digital collection of data that is organized in a way to facilitate retrieval and storage. It is essential that you have some fundamental knowledge of databases, even if you not pursuing a technical position. The most basic understanding of databases involves the following components. Think of this as going from the largest to the smallest:


A complete collection of information. It could be the “Hospital Patients” data.


Refers to data arranged in rows and columns.  An Excel spreadsheet is somewhat like a table, but many folks correctly don’t like to call Excel a database. But for now in terms of understanding the concept, the Excel analogy will do.


Records are sometimes called Rows. A record is composed of fields, each of which
contains one item of information. A set of records constitutes a file. For example, an “Employees” file might have  records that have fields such as : a name field, an
address field, a phone number field, and an employee ID field.


The lowest level of data is the field. It is one piece of data such as “Last Name”. The data in that field is usually called a Value.

One more thing about databases: Check out my post on Databases in Healthcare IT

SQL – Structured Query Language

SQL stands for “structured query language”, and is the foundation of how to get information from databases. It’s called a language because it uses English-like structure. Let’s suppose you have a database of “Customers” that has a number of fields to identify CustID, FirstName, and so on:

CustID FirstName LastName Address City Country Postal
1 Tony Blauer 57 Ober St Berlin Germany 12209
2 Tony Blair 124 Paulie St London England SW1A0AA
3 Antoinette Carson 125 4th St Seattle US 98101

You need to query how many customers have the first name of “Tony”, and you just need to know their last names and the city they live in. You would use a database software or a web page form to query the database using this statement:

SELECT LastName, City FROM Customers WHERE FirstName = “Tony”

Your database query would return:

1 Blaur Berlin
2 Blair London

So, that is a very basic example of SQL. Once you start, it’s actually pretty fun. This SQL primer from W3 Schools can get you going, as well as this introduction to Oracle from Ben Brumm at

Technical Troubleshooting Skills

As you work with any technology, a big part of your life will involve figuring out what is going wrong when someone calls on you to report “It’s not working”. Let’s dive into the basic structure of a technology application:

You have a user sitting at a workstation PC, running a software application

That application has a client that is installed on the user’s PC, but is connected through a network to a server that runs other parts of the application, such as a database.

The application may also get content or services through some other third-party service via the Internet.

So let’s look at all the places where things can go wrong:

  1. User error. Maybe the person just doesn’t understand how the application is supposed to work, or isn’t taking the right steps. Many ‘technical’ issues turn out to be training issues.
  2. There could be a problem with the PC. That brings a host of possibilities:
    1. Does the PC have enough processing speed and memory to run the application?
    2. Does the user have other software that slows down the PC or causes conflicts with the application in question?
    3. Is there a virus or malware? Or, maybe installed virus scan software is itself causing a problem with speed or compatibility issues.
  3. Network or server problems. Are other applications having problems, or just this one? Can the user print, go to the Internet, and perform other functions with no problems? Are other users in the same location able to perform the same functions? The answers to these questions can point to widespread network or server issues.
  4. Database issues. How does the problem manifest itself? Does the application freeze only when performing a certain function, while other functions in the same application work fine? That could indicate a bug in the application or a problem accessing just one record or table in the database.

Now, please don’t send me hate mail because I’ve only touched on basic troubleshooting skills. This is just a basic example, and the main point I’m trying to get across is the concept of an application from the end-user all the way to the back-end server. Troubleshooting skills vary widely from one application to the next, and come over time with experience. I will also cover more specific examples in the Articles Page. You can search blog posts by category.

Healthcare Interfaces and Interface Engines

Interfaces are used to allow various Healthcare software systems to format and communicate data. I have several resources on interfaces. First, have a look at the interfaces page. Then check out my introduction to HL7. It’s pretty old but still relevant to the current implementation of the standard.

Learn The Basics Of One Programming Language

This is certainly not required to succeed in Healthcare IT. I didn’t learn any programming until I was several years into my career.  However, think for a moment that they are called programming languages. At some point, all of us have been in the presence of a group of people speaking a language foreign to us. If we then learn just a little of that language, we at least feel a little more comfortable around that group, and can possibly find some common ground. The same thing can be true in your IT career. You will at some point work with programmers or developers. It would be very helpful to have at least little understanding of Java, PHP, or C#.

There are numerous free online tutorials and workshops that will help you get started. Here is a nice article from Mashable on the subject:

I have a post called Great Reasons To Learn How To Code that has gotten a lot of good feedback.

If You Get Just One Technical Certification

Let’s say you approached me saying “I have no technology experience or certification, and I have one month to dedicate to this full-time. What should I do”? My bottom line answer would be to get a basic Microsoft Windows Server certification. It’s not like I’m shilling for Microsoft, nor do I have anything against Apple or any other technology provider. If you’re at the very beginning, a Microsoft Server class will get you started. If you want to round out the training a little more, Then check out the four exam certification called Microsoft Technology Associate. It’s billed as a fundamental track for technology infrastructure, and should help you lay a good foundation.

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Technical Skills in Healthcare
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Technical Skills in Healthcare
Technical Skills in Healthcare. If you work in Health IT, you will need basic technical skills to help you develop a solid foundation. Here's where to start.