On the surface, Health Informatics (HI) and Health Information Management (HIM) may seem very similar to most people. Both fields revolve around the use of technology in the healthcare field and share some common skillsets and job responsibilities, but there are many differences between these two distinct career fields.
The key factor that distinguishes HI from HIM is that HIM typically focuses on the information technology processes needed to store and retrieve patient data accurately and complying with regulations. HI, on the other hand, focuses more on applied technology by using information management and information technology to improve patient care.
Health informatics professionals design and develop information systems and processes that improve the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of care and also assess emerging technologies for healthcare applications. HI is often described as the intersection of computer science, information science and healthcare, meaning that HI professionals work with both the processes and the tools used to record, store and analyze healthcare information.
They have a deep understanding of data, particularly electronic health records, and how it can be used to support decisions and protocols. They often interact directly with clinical staff and patients in order to evaluate the impact of information technology on clinical processes, outcomes and resources.
Health information management is chiefly concerned with organizing and managing patient data contained in the medical record. HIM professionals are often responsible for coding health information for proper reimbursement or research as well as ensuring compliance with governmental regulations regarding patient data. They must make sure patient health records are complete and accurate and provide access to records to staff and others while protecting the privacy and security of patient health information.
Health information management careers typically require education or experience with medical records management, coding and billing and regulatory requirements. Information technology knowledge, particularly involving electronic health records is also often required. HIM careers may also require familiarity with medical terminology, medications and basic anatomy and physiology.
Those who are looking for a career in health informatics can benefit from some of the same core skills and knowledge needed for HIM careers. However, HI roles place less emphasis on coding, billing and regulations and a greater emphasis on information analysis and organization and knowledge of system infrastructure design and networking as well as programming skills. HI careers often also require familiarity with clinical guidelines and applications within specialty areas such as nursing, clinical care, public health and biomedical research.
Because HI positions tend to require highly specialized knowledge and an advanced skill set, health informatics professionals often have a Master’s of Science in Health Informatics or a Graduate Certificate in Health Informatics.
Careers in health informatics are on the rise and are expected to continue to grow, partly due to the Affordable Care Act and the accompanying health insurance exchange requirement. The ACA and the insurance exchanges together required healthcare providers to implement electronic health records by January 2014, or they were subject to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement penalties. As a result of governmental attention on health informatics, demand for HI professionals continues to rapidly increase.