What Do Health Informatics Do?

The sheer amount of patient data produced, stored and accessed today has led to the need for a new type of professional who understands both the medical and technological sides of healthcare. Health informatics is the field of study that specifically focuses on the intersection of the healthcare industry, information technology and data science.

Health informatics aims to improve the access, exchange and integration of healthcare information to improve patient care.

The field focuses on three key areas:

  • Clinical: Practical applications to improve the delivery and experience of patient care.
  • Administrative: Data to support healthcare operations including planning, budgeting, management, education and research.
  • Social: Interpersonal interactions, processes and technology in healthcare settings.

Health informatics is an excellent career path for students with a strong interest in how computer science, data science and information technology fields apply to medicine. The role of informatics in healthcare has grown significantly over the past decade and is predicted to increase as technological innovations in medicine emerge and the population ages.

There are a handful of options for professionals seeking to enter the field of health informatics. A master’s degree is strongly recommended but there are certificate courses and certifications, as well.

A health informatics program typically covers the following topics:

  • Computer science, data science and information technology.
  • Data management and information systems.
  • Programming languages and software development.
  • Healthcare laws, policies and ethics.

Is Health Informatics the Same as Bioinformatics?

Health informatics and bioinformatics are often used interchangeably, as they are quite similar. However, they are not the same. Bioinformatics applies data science and computer programming techniques to the biological sciences, such as microorganisms, plants, animals and humans. Health informatics applies those same techniques to the delivery of healthcare specifically.

What is the Role of Health Informatics?

Health informatics is an umbrella term that includes a range of more specialized fields like health information management, clinical data management and biomedical informatics.

Generally, the role of health informatics professionals is to optimize the intake, storage and flow of healthcare data while remaining in regulatory compliance for healthcare organizations.

Health Informatics Salary: What’s Typical?

Exact salary ranges depend on location and job description. However, professionals can expect to earn an average industry entry salary of approximately $50,000 per year. Average median salaries sit around $90,000 per year and an experienced professional with advanced education may double that amount later in their careers.

Number of Jobs and Job Outlook

The field of health informatics is expected to grow over the next decade. Some positions are projected to pace the national average growth of 7%, while others are notably higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field employed 416,400 in 2020 and is expected to employ 453,600 professionals by 2030.

What are the Duties of Health Informatics Professionals?

Though specific duties vary based on position title and job description, here are some of the duties health informatics professionals may be responsible for:

  • Creating user interfaces for the storage and evaluation of patient and organization data.
  • Troubleshooting hardware and software issues so patient care runs smoothly.
  • Analyzing systems and suggesting improvements.
  • Training organization staff to remain compliant with company cybersecurity, data, and patient care standards.
  • Designing and implementing a plan to keep organizational information, digital security and registries current.
  • Evaluating and optimizing data.
  • Documenting efforts for regular reports to supervisors and stakeholders.

What Jobs Involve Health Informatics?

There are quite a few choices for professionals seeking a career in health informatics. We’ve compiled a list of the most common ones:

What is the Work Environment Like?

Some roles require stakeholder interaction while others are strictly behind-the-scenes support. Since more healthcare organizations have been transitioning to federally mandated electronic health records (EHR) systems, the variety of positions has grown. Health informatics professionals may work in any number of diverse settings from hospitals or clinics to government agencies or private consulting firms.

Professionals may speak with patients and their families or caregivers for the sake of gathering data, but often interact solely with internal stakeholders like doctors and hospital administrators. Many people select health informatics roles to move to a more behind-the-scenes support role instead of patient-facing positions.

How to Become a Health Informatics Professional

To become a health informatics professional, we suggest that you have a background in information technology, data science or healthcare. Many—if not most—positions require a minimum of a related bachelor’s degree.

Many employers also look for experience or credentials in the healthcare field such as working in a facility like a clinic or a hospital. Many professionals come from backgrounds like nursing.

To be more competitive, there are certificate programs as well as master’s degree programs in health informatics. About half of all health informatics professionals hold a bachelor’s degree whereas approximately 25% hold a master’s degree.

In many cases, it is encouraged that prospective employees have industry certifications, which may be included as part of an educational program.

What Are Three Skills Used in Health Informatics?

Three of the most necessary types of skills for health informatics professionals are:

Medical Knowledge

Health informatics professionals must have a solid grasp of medical terminology and methods used to treat patients. They use this knowledge to help healthcare providers communicate with their patients and during the creation of patient record management systems.

Health informatics specialists must also understand the laws and regulations that govern the privacy and security of patients’ confidential health information. People working in this field must be familiar with legislation like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They must also understand the best practices related to cybersecurity.

Technical Knowledge

Health informatics professionals need a strong foundation in computer science and information technology, including various programming languages, forms of database storage and multimedia formats.

Healthcare facilities rely on computer programs to keep track of everything from patient records to appointment times. Health informatics professionals design, run and maintain these systems, troubleshooting problems as they arise.

Healthcare Administration

Health informatics professionals need a strong knowledge of medical coding systems, records and billing procedures to create programs that accurately and efficiently support these functions.

They must also regularly communicate with physicians, coders and administrators to understand needs and ensure systems meet stakeholder requirements. Excellent communication skills and the ability to assemble and present information without technical jargon are necessary.

Do You Code in Health Informatics?

Sometimes! Not every role requires coding skills, but being familiar with common coding languages like Python, C, Java and SQL may be required.

Who Uses Health Informatics?

A variety of organizations employ professionals in the health informatics field.

How is Health Informatics Used in Hospitals?

Hospitals manage massive amounts of data daily from patient records to billing information. They not only need to keep data flowing internally, but they’re also in constant communication and data exchange with private practices, government agencies, insurance companies and others. Health informatics professionals keep vast amounts of data organized, secure and usable.

How Do Private Physician Practices Use Health Informatics?

Like a hospital, private practitioners must comply with patient data standards and regulations. Many private practices currently use—or are migrating over to—EHRs and rely on health informatics professionals to manage the data.

How Would a Nurse Use Health Informatics for Patient Care?

Regardless of their organization, nurses are the main face that patients and their families or caregivers see. They handle all the medical intake, medication and dosage records, medical histories and accurate delivery of this information to the doctors who oversee them. Nurses benefit from health informatics knowledge as they are constantly interacting with the data and programs at work.

Why is Health Informatics Important in Public Health?

Health informatics professionals are critical in government agencies. They are responsible for creating information systems that will help public health officials collect, analyze and distribute public health data to the benefit of all. Much of this data is analyzed to make significant public policy changes.

The Future of Health Informatics

With a boom in technological advancement and an aging population, it is no surprise that there is an increasing demand for employees in the health informatics field. Those who keep up with innovation will find themselves positioned favorably as they advance in their career.

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