What is Health Informatics?
Health informatics uses technology for the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of healthcare data information to achieve better patient outcomes by streamlining the sharing of information and fostering collaboration among healthcare providers.
To achieve this, health informatics professionals work to help healthcare facilities implement new systems, upgrade existing databases and work toward the development of a fully interoperable healthcare system. This includes providing digital access to electronic health records (EHR) for patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, insurance companies and health information technicians.
For health informatics professionals, it is important that the “right information is available when and where it’s needed, while at the same time making sure it’s the highest quality data, it’s confidential and it’s secure.” While improving the quality of care and patient health outcomes is the primary goal, health informatics also uses this data information to understand healthcare trends and perceptions through the use of health information technology and health Information management.
Health Information Technology
Health information technology, or health IT, refers to the multitude of technology tools and systems used by physicians, nurses, health administrators, patients, insurance companies, government entities and others to compile, store, analyze and share healthcare information. This includes healthcare operation data and information, such as financial and administrative functions like scheduling and billing, as well as patient health tools and information, such as electronic health records, personal health records, electronic prescription services, health-related smartphone apps and more.
In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was passed to promote the meaningful use of health IT and ushered in an emphasis on improving communication and systems integration between healthcare providers to ensure the array of patient data information is utilized for the patient’s best care while setting legal and ethical guidelines for how the information is used, stored and accessed.
What Is the Difference Between Health Informatics and Health Information Technology?
While health IT encompasses all the tools, technologies, systems and processes of how healthcare data information is collected, shared and stored, health informatics focuses on the usage and application of this data information. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it, health informatics is “the science, the how and why, behind health IT.”
Health informatics applies concepts, theories, and practices for the analyzing and presenting of this data information for healthcare practitioners to apply to patient care and achieve better health outcomes.
Health Information Management
Health information management focuses on organizing and managing patient data, ensuring patient health records are complete and accurate. This includes assembling and maintaining medical records from clinicians’ notes, transcribing dictation from clinicians on vital patient information and overseeing the appropriate release of patient information, including the correct coding essential for billing and for patient care.
What Is the Difference Between Health Informatics and Health Information Management?
Effective health information management is essential to the function of health informatics. While health information management encompasses medical records management, coding and billing and regulatory knowledge for the ethical handling of data information, health informatics uses the information from patient health records to achieve better patient outcomes and to understand trends and perceptions in the field of healthcare.
Health informatics emphasizes information analysis and the organization and knowledge of system infrastructure design and networking, as well as the needed programming skills to create intuitive and integrated systems.
What Are Examples of Health Informatics?
As health informatics is part of the larger function of health IT and depends on efficient health information management, it can be considered an “interdisciplinary” function. Health informatics professionals understand and apply information technology, human-computer interactions, workflow and systems design and change management strategies to utilize health data information for improving the quality of healthcare and patient outcomes.
Health informatics uses this data in a broad range of settings and applications, including analyzing healthcare trends, improving clinical workflow and informing population health management.
Specific examples of health informatics include:
The most common or familiar form of informatics, clinical informatics is the collecting, managing, analyzing and disseminating of electronic health records (EHR) data for use in improving overall patient care delivery and health outcomes.
With a focus on the sharing and usage of biomedical data, biomedical informatics (or bioinformatics) translates a wide swath of biological systems to connect basic and clinical research with practical applications in healthcare.
Public Health Informatics
Focusing on the overall population, as opposed to individual patients, public health informatics utilizes data from a myriad of sources – hospitals, law enforcement and social services address and prepare for widespread health events (i.e., the COVID-19 pandemic).
This area focuses on data collection and analysis in the laboratory setting, where data analysis can benefit current research, be recorded and stored for future research projects and new streams of data are available via smart lab equipment and tools.
Through the integration of data information, technology, and automation in the medication-use process, pharmacy informatics is making the practice of prescribing and administering medications safer and more precise.
What Do Health Informatics Experts Do?
Health informatics experts use their training and knowledge of healthcare, information systems design, databases, and information technology to gather, store, analyze, and share data information from medical records.
A health informatics professional’s daily duties and responsibilities can include:
- Integrating electronic health records (EHR) into clinical workflows to improve patient care and meet federally mandated goals to implement the “meaningful use” of EHR
- Improving care coordination by reducing redundancy and inaccuracy in patient care plans
- Helping to inform patients and families through improved access to their health information
- Applying strategic data analysis to help reduce expenses and improve efficiencies across entire healthcare systems
Health informatics experts not only work in a variety of settings and fields of informatics—from hospitals to laboratories to pharmacies—they can also hold a variety of job titles, based on experience and responsibilities.
Job titles in the health informatics field can include:
Nursing Informatics Specialist
This nurse works in an informatics role analyzing data and addressing the logistics of technology in patient care while also training and overseeing other nurses in medical record keeping protocols.
Clinical Data Analyst
Duties of this position include evaluating healthcare and patient data with the aim of improving workflow and the facility’s clinical information systems.
Clinical Informatics Specialist
Duties include devising processes and enhancing procedures as well as documenting them for the medical staff, plus working with the systems that digitize patient and medical records.
Health Informatics Manager/Director
This informatics professional implements and oversees a healthcare facility’s integrated EHR and workflow systems to support a high quality of patient care across multiple information systems.
Chief Medical Information Officer
This C-level position is responsible for the effective and efficient flow of information throughout a healthcare organization or system and oversees the construction of IT systems.
What Skills Are Needed for Health Informatics?
As seen, health informatics professionals strive to improve the health of individuals, groups, and populations through innovations in information technology systems that are thoughtfully designed, implemented, and managed, as well as responsive and even predictive of future needs. Therefore, health informatics requires significant mastery of informational, computational, behavioral and organizational sciences, along with deep understanding of health systems and processes.
Health informatics positions tend to require highly specialized knowledge and an advanced skill set in:
- Data information analysis
- Organization and system infrastructure design
- Computer programming and networking
- Experience specialty areas of healthcare, such as nursing, clinical care, public health or biomedical research
What Is the Future of Health Informatics?
Health informatics will be at the center of healthcare innovation, devising new ways for health information to be collected, cleaned, analyzed and applied for improved patient outcomes and all-around better healthcare.
As more and more organizations across the healthcare spectrum look to reap the benefits of informatics, there is a growing need for employees who possess both clinical experience as well as proficiency in information technology or informatics.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% growth in all healthcare occupations from 2019 to 2029, leading to 2.4 million new jobs.1 Positions and areas utilizing information technology and informatics are all projected to see employment growth.
- Medical records and health information specialists – 8% growth through 20292
- Computer and information systems managers – 10% growth through 20293
- Medical and health services managers – 32% growth through 20294
Did you know healthcare analytics is an important part of health informatics? Healthcare analytics is the systematic analysis of data to produce useful insights helping healthcare facilities improve their performance and quality of care for better patient experience and health outcomes.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Records and Health Information Specialists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm#tab-6. (visited July 7, 2021).
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer and Information Systems Managers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm#tab-6 (visited July 7, 2021).
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical and Health Services Managers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm#tab-5 (visited July 7, 2021).