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What is Health Informatics? How to Prepare for a Career

February 13, 2021 | Staff Writers

What is Health Informatics
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The health informatics field may be a relatively new sector compared to others in the healthcare industry, but it is definitely a groundbreaking discipline with an immense impact on the overall health economy. The profession provides administrative support needed by the health care system for smooth clinical and managerial operations. 

Health informatics professionals are knowledgeable in using electronic health records (EHR) to keep track of patients’ data and monitor data systems, among other functions. 

With the fast-paced growth and accessibility of digital technologies, the health information field also witnessed considerable development over the years, leading to a broad scope of practice for the health informatics specialist. Little wonder the term health informatics refers to all managing the information in the medical industry. 

Students interested in pursuing a career in the health informatics field will need to develop skills that combine information technology and health care by learning concepts and practices from computer science, information science, and healthcare. They also need to build the interpersonal skills required to effectively collaborate with others on their team. Typical jobs for health informatics professionals include clinical analysts, healthcare informationists, and computer systems managers. 

Aspiring healthcare professionals with a particular focus on building a career in the health informatics field will find this guide helpful. 

What Health Informatics Professionals Do

Professionals in this field use methods and theories from healthcare, information science, and computer science to design information systems that improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and overall quality of patient care in the healthcare organization where they work.

What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Health Informatics Specialist?

According to the Bureau of Labor, some of the duties of a health informatics specialist include processing, cataloging, and maintaining, and reporting patient data in compliance with the healthcare industry’s numerical coding system. However, the core function focuses more on managing databases and supervising how patient information is transferred across digital networks.

Some of the specific duties and responsibilities include:

  • Implementing and monitoring technology in a healthcare organization
  • Devising systems, improving methods, and documenting them for the medical staff
  • Working with systems and processes that digitize medical records and patient information
  • Evaluating patient data and healthcare procedures to improve workflow and the health information systems
  • Overseeing the daily operations of a medical facility’s clinical information system

How Does Health Informatics Differ from Other Administrative Health Care Jobs?

Although health informatics and administrative health care have a lot in common, they fall under two distinct fields. Professionals in both fields do not deal directly with patients. Instead, their duties center on healthcare technology and data. 

However, administrative health care jobs are categorized as Health Information Management (HIM). These deal with the processes and individuals that manage data and technology in any healthcare organization. On the other hand, the focus of health informatics jobs is on developing, maintaining, and using healthcare technology and data. 

In other words, the main difference between the two is the level of interaction with technology and data. Health informatics deals with managing databases, while administrative health care jobs or health information management manages the data. 

Professionals in the health information management department handle administrative jobs that typically involve storing and retrieving patient data as well as managing the processes and people. Health informatics jobs center on analyzing and utilizing data as well as using technology to boost patient care delivery.  

Health informatics professionals working in any healthcare organization may go by different job titles, such as:

  • Health informatics specialist/analyst
  • Data analyst
  • Systems analyst
  • Database analyst
  • Health information systems manager
  • Nursing or pharmacy informatics specialist

The common job titles for administrative health care professionals are:

  • Medical records manager
  • Compliance officer
  • Data quality manager
  • Health information management director

What Skills Are Important for Health Informatics Specialists?

A health informatics specialist needs to understand databases, data analytics, data standards, and software development or system design. These are courses offered in programs awarding information technology degrees. In addition, professionals must also have in-depth knowledge of electronic health records, healthcare systems, and clinical vocabularies. 

In addition to the above basic knowledge and understanding, professionals in the health informatics field need the following specific skills to effectively execute their duties. These are often developed through courses and internships available in the different health informatics degree programs. 

Technical Skills

Most positions in the field require specialists to use electronic health record (EHR) systems, making it necessary for students to acquire skills in coding and systems management. Students must be proficient with information technology, including databases, computers, and networking equipment.

Analytics Skills

Analytics skills are required to understand medical records, diagnoses, and information management-related programs. Aspiring professionals must learn to adapt to new regulations and find the methods to implement them. They develop strategy and planning skills to help their team (IT and medical staff) understand new programs and consequently improve overall performance. 

Integrity

Although health informatics professionals are not medical doctors, maintaining patient confidentiality is of utmost importance. Students must learn to maintain a high level of integrity with every piece of information regarding patient information. 

Communication Skills

Indeed, most aspiring professionals who are passionate about building a career in the healthcare industry but are not interested in working directly with patients tend to take the route of health information technology. However, professionals do not work in isolation, whether or not they deal with patients directly. They need good communication skills to explain highly technical terminologies to other staff members, clients, and patients.  

Leadership 

Advancing in the field means taking up leadership responsibilities, meaning professionals will need to develop skills that involve motivating team members, quick problem-solving methods, and training new hires. 

Education Requirements for Health Informatics

A minimum of an associate’s degree is required to work as a health care informatics technician. Many other responsibilities and job titles will require a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, especially if you plan to get into an upper-level management position in the future. Candidates need plenty of work experience as well as earning a doctoral degree to attain some of the most advanced positions in the field. 

The good thing is that you can start work after earning the minimum education requirement and enroll in any of the best online universities to conveniently further your education and increase your potential for getting a higher salary.

Here are the common bachelor’s and master’s degree options for a career in health informatics:

  • Bachelor of Science Business – Information Technology Management
  • Bachelor of Information Technology
  • Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics
  • Master of Nursing Informatics
  • Master of Information Systems
  • Master of Health Informatics
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What Should You Major in to Become a Health Informatics Specialist?

Becoming a health informatics specialist requires gaining plenty of clinical experience in addition to building a solid foundation of formal education. A bachelor’s degree in nursing with a heavy concentration in informatics is required to pursue this role. 

However, if you are not planning to specifically become a health informatics specialist but want to enter the field of health informatics with a bachelor’s degree, your four-year course of study should focus on computer science, healthcare administration, coding systems, and medical terminology. 

You may be exposed to supervised training and study courses specific to your job outcome. In some cases, students will be required to complete an internship for certain periods.

In addition, four-year undergraduate students can choose to specialize in several IT areas, such as:

Bioinformatics 

Students learn how to retrieve, share, and use critical information in decision-making within the biomedical information system. Health data from bioinformatics research are used in biomedical informatics to gather, process, and analyze information. This area also covers topics related to nursing informatics, chemical informatics, and dental informatics. 

Clinical Informatics

This involves the use of IT in clinical research and patient care. It also helps students learn how to communicate with patients using IT. 

Organizational Informatics

This area concentrates on using computer science and IT to improve communication within a healthcare organization. 

Public Health Informatics 

Students study the use of computer science and IT and how it applies to education methods in public health. The area focuses on making the latest medical research accessible to the public. 

Social Informatics

Students learn how information technology affects the social environment. The specialization equips students with the basic knowledge of all components of computer science and IT.

Students who want to build a career in the field of public health should strongly consider a position in health informatics. There is a significantly high demand for positions in the somewhat new field, with currently about 400,000 employees in health informatics and approximately 78,000 additional job openings projected over the next 10 years. 

What Certifications are Useful when Applying for Jobs in Health Informatics?

Candidates often wonder if they really need a health informatics certification. While it is not compulsory to obtain a certification to apply or work in certain positions in the field, a certified status can improve your chance of getting employed and increase your credibility. 

Health informatics is still a relatively new field, and many employers look for third-party endorsements to certify candidates’ skills, knowledge, and abilities. 

The following certifications are useful when applying for jobs in health informatics, depending on your specialization. 

1. Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS). This certification is specifically designed for up-and-coming candidates interested in getting into the health informatics industry but lack the necessary training and experience within the field. Candidates must have at least a high school diploma (or equivalent) to be eligible. The certification is obtained through the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

2. Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS). This is another HIMSS certification for experienced professionals. Only candidates with a minimum of bachelor’s degree and three to five years of information and management systems experience are eligible. 

3. Registered Nurse Board Certified (RN-BC). This certification is specifically for registered nurses, and it is a professional certification obtained through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). 

4. Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA). The RHIA certification is obtained through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

Usually, you can obtain certifications by taking the required exams after completing your coursework. Maintaining your certified status requires 50 credit hours of continuing education earned over a period of two to three years, depending on the type of certification. 

Becoming certified is important, but you need to maintain the status through continuing education, or else you will have to retake the exams if you lose your status.

Best Schools for People Interested in Studying Health Informatics

Global industry analysis shows that the health informatics market is one of the fastest-growing IT and computer science sectors. But while the demand for qualified candidates is high, interested students need to be selective when choosing a degree program for their preferred career. 

What to Look for in a Health Informatics Program

Regardless of whether you are enrolling in an associate, a bachelor’s, or a master’s degree in health informatics program, the courses need to include certain fundamentals that will give you a basic understanding of community-based health information, medical informatics, medical coding, and medical terminology. 

If you choose a fully online bachelor program over a traditional brick-and-mortar four-year college, for example, make sure the program includes all of these courses. 

Health informatics programs should also include IT and several data analytics courses to make the curriculum balanced. Combining these courses prepares students with the required knowledge and necessary skills to become proficient in both healthcare and computers. 

Candidates looking at earning advanced degrees should enroll in graduate programs with core courses that will help them develop the skills to effectively manage informatics projects for health organizations and build databases from scratch. 

What Are the Most Reputable Schools with Health Informatics Programs?

Students interested in earning a degree in health informatics can consider any of the following reputable on-campus and online programs.

Online Associate’s in Health Informatics Programs

1. St. Petersburg College, Clearwater, Florida

2. Alfred State – SUNY, Alfred, New York

3. Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota

4. The University of Northwestern Ohio, Lima, Ohio

5. Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho

6. North Dakota State College of Science, Wahpeton, North Dakota

7. Peirce College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

8. Washburn University, Topeka Kansas,

9. Davenport University, Grand Rapids, Michigan

10. Weber State University, Ogden, Utah

Bachelor’s in Health Informatics Programs

1. Regis University, Denver, Colorado

2. Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana

3. The University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida

4. University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois 

5. East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina 

6. Clarkson College, Omaha, Nebraska 

7. Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls, Oregon

8. Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas

9. Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan

10. University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

Online Master’s in Health Informatics Programs

1. Stanford University, Stanford, CA

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

3. The University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

4. The University of San Diego, San Diego, CA

5. University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL

6. University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL

7. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

8. Boston University, Boston, MA

9. George Washington University, Washington, DC

10. The University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Potential Jobs for Health Informatics

There is a steady increase in the demand for qualified health information management and technology professionals. Medical assistants with a certificate or associate’s degree are needed to carry out medical billing and coding, while holders of bachelor’s and master’s degrees are also needed to fill in health IT and managerial positions. 

Depending on your qualification, you can work in different positions in the following sectors of the health industry:

Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories

Building a career as a healthcare informatics specialist in the laboratory subsector takes a lot of analytical skills. The jobs usually involve providing diagnostic and analytical services, such as blood analysis, to medical professionals. 

Medical and Surgical Hospitals

Many health informatics professionals find gainful employment and even build lasting careers in medical and surgical hospitals. There are plenty of jobs available in the sector, from those that involve specialized practices to others that provide general care.

Outpatient Care Centers

Health informatics professionals handle roles involving systems management and data analytics in centers where patients don’t stay overnight.

Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing

Professionals in the health informatics field can work with database management, computer systems, and analytics in factories where drugs for medical treatments are manufactured. 

Physician Offices

A health informatics specialist can focus on one specific aspect out of the numerous career opportunities available in the health informatics field and find employment in a physician’s office. Typical roles include management and analytics.

What is the Typical Career Path of Health Informatics Specialists?

The different career paths in the health informatics field generally fall into three broad categories, including analytics, administration, and management. These concentrations are usually available for graduate students. Undergraduate programs usually do not offer such concentrations. 

However, building a career in the health informatics field can begin with a certificate or an associate’s degree program. The courses offered in these programs prepare the student with the basic IT and administrative skills required to take on appropriate roles in the field. 

With a certificate or associate’s degree, candidates can work as:

  • Information Clerks: These workers have the responsibility of making sure that medical claims and bills are correct. They also have a good understanding of the medical facility’s services and can communicate them to patients.
  • Health Record Technicians: Workers in this position maintain patients’ medical records and manage health databases.
  • Medical Assistants: Typical responsibilities of these workers include preparing samples, measuring vitals, recording patients’ information, and scheduling appointments. They work more closely with patients than other professionals in the health informatics field. 

Bachelor’s degree holders often get more lucrative positions than candidates with certificate or associate’s degrees. There are plenty of four-year degree programs to choose from, all of which require students to study more computer science-related courses. 

You can work in the following positions with a bachelor’s degree:

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager: Planning and coordinating health services are handled by these specialists. 
  • Medical and Health Services Manager:  These professionals are in charge of installing new computer systems, improving the workflow between computer systems, ensuring that operating costs are cut low, and generally coordinate information technology functions.

Aspiring professionals can earn a bachelor’s degree in any healthcare-related field and then pursue a master’s degree in health informatics or health administration. Students with a non-healthcare background at the undergraduate level can also switch to this field at the graduate level.  

With a master’s degree, candidates can work in positions such as:

  •  IT Consultant: Professionals in this position are highly knowledgeable in the computer science field. They offer expert advice to clients on the best ways to set up and run their information technology systems.
  • Clinical Nurse Leader: Experienced nurses usually work in this position, coordinating other nurses in performing their duties. Besides other nurses, these experts also communicate with patients and their families.
  • Clinical Informatics Specialist: These experts solve computer hardware and software problems. They also plan periodic system changes that cut across an entire healthcare organization. 
  • Pharmacy Informatics Coordinator: These specialists implement relevant software, maintain pharmacy databases, and need to stay up-to-date with pharmaceutical laws and the latest industry standards. 

Top leadership positions in the health informatics field are often reserved for candidates with doctoral degrees. Usually, such individuals have the necessary expertise and leadership skills that employers are looking for. 

Doctoral degree holders can work as:

  • College Health Professors:  Professors carry out their own research and teach college courses. Many professionals who go this route can become tenured and often enjoy successful and rewarding careers.
  • Senior Research Scientist: Professionals in this position conduct researches, plan projects, and implement new technologies. They also train junior lab scientists. 
  • Chief Medical Officer: These experts are in charge of overseeing all the medical operations within a healthcare organization. 

Average Salary for a Health Informatics Specialist

The average salary for these careers depends on the job title, position, and work experience. Here is a summary of a few positions and their average salaries.

  • Health Information Technician – $42,630
  • Clinical Informatics Coordinator – $84,058
  • Health Information System Manager – $92,810
  • Director of Clinical Informatics – $128,075
  • Chief Clinical Informatics Officer – $180,000

How to Advance Your Career

Advancing your health informatics career will require taking certain steps beyond acquiring a degree. You need to consider certifications and licenses specific to your field to qualify for certain positions for starters. 

For example, candidates planning to become Clinical Nurse Leaders must have a Registered Nurse (RN) license. Apart from licensing, earning an Informatics Nursing Certification can also improve the credibility of Clinical Nurse Leaders. 

Professionals in other specializations within the health informatics field can also seek additional certification from the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). They may also earn optional certifications through the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) program.

In addition to all of the above, building a strong network is another excellent way to improve your career prospects. You can increase your networking power by actively participating in professional programs or events available from private and public health informatics organizations. You can seize these mediums to discover local opportunities and explore professional mentoring that will lead to leadership development. 

What Types of Jobs Are Available to Health Informatics Specialists?

Health informatics job titles and descriptions can be slightly different depending on the setting or health organization. However, here are the common hot jobs in the field.

Public Health Informaticist

Experts in this field use good interpersonal and communication skills to educate the public about the importance of maintaining good health. Their primary function is to use IT to improve public health, and they do this through research, tracking of public health issues, and sharing relevant information.

Health Care App Developer

These experts create technology solutions for doctors and patients to better manage their health care. They have creative and excellent computer programming skills. 

Health Data Visualization Specialist

Health data visualization experts help the public understand issues that can impact their health using images to create easy-to-understand stories. They have good technical, computer, and analytical skills and are excellent storytellers with good critical thinking abilities. 

Clinical Systems Analyst

The primary function of clinical systems analysts is to manage computer networks in medical facilities and hospitals. This means providing system upgrades, maintaining computers, troubleshooting computer problems, and training new IT staff to use the systems. They possess strong technical and problem-solving skills.

Chief Information Officer

When IT programs are developed for a health organization, these professionals are in charge of providing the vision for the programs and strategy for implementing them. They have leadership skills and can effectively communicate with their teams and inspire staff. 

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