Guide to a Career in Health Informatics
What Is Health Informatics?
Health informatics (also known as Health Information Systems or Medical Informatics) is the intersection of health care, information science, and computer science. The tools of HI include medical terminology, information and communication systems, and computer technology. A multidisciplinary field, health informatics (HI) uses technology to organize and analyze health records to improve healthcare outcomes through better collaboration among a patient’s healthcare providers to improve the quality and safety of patient care.
Optimizing the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information, HI provides electronic access to medical records by utilizing acquisition, storage, retrieval, and health and biomedicine information. Electronic access of medical records could be made available to patients, doctors, nurses, hospitals, or medical facility administrators, insurance companies, and health information technicians.
Health Informatics is a rapidly evolving field with many online and on-campus certificate and degree programs at undergraduate and graduate levels. Programs in health informatics and health information management play a vital role in healthcare reform.
Careers in Health Informatics
In an era of contactless medical consults due to COVID-19, HI has become even more essential in the sharing of patient records to allow care providers to collaborate. Even the smallest clinics have come to rely on shared data to improve care and as a result, job opportunities are increasing.
Professional roles and salaries in health informatics vary depending on the size of the employer and the types of health data they manage, with a median annual salary of $55,560 for all health information technologists according to 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The majority of HI jobs involve some level of gathering and analyzing data, designing workflows, measuring impact, educating and training users, managing systems, and working directly with developers.
Clinical informaticist is a title that can be applied to an array of responsibilities. In a doctor’s office or a small medical practice, a clinical informaticist is generally responsible for organizing and managing patient data; making the necessary patient data and information available to health care providers, staff, and patients; educating the end-users in the electronic systems, and optimizing information technology (IT) use. However, in a large organization, such as a hospital network, these duties might be divided up among several informaticists.
Pharmacy or nutrition informaticist has similar roles, with pharmacy informaticists using data to monitor dosing and adverse reactions to ensure accurate and detailed prescriptions from physicians to improve patient outcome. Nutrition informaticists use patient data to make more knowledgeable decisions regarding food planning to improve patient results by reducing allergic reactions or improving a treatment plan.
Health informatics analyst is focused on working with data and may involve quite a bit of face-to-face education and problem-solving. This role is to provide answers to clinical questions by studying data and developing models of events and concepts. They may also collect data or support the collection and systems used to manage the data, but the approach to or details of subsequent analysis depends upon the employer.
Nurse informaticist is a role that intersects between informatics and nursing, serving as liaisons between nurses and software developers and providing training in the systems. By studying workflows, nurse informaticists help developers build tools that nurses can use as well as relay concerns and limitations in an effort to discover solutions that will be effective for both the programmers and the end-users. They are involved with evaluating and selecting technology, designing systems, determining end-user requirements, and building functions that will help nurses to make the best use of data.
Informatics specialist will frequently collaborate with an organization’s leadership regarding directives, quality initiatives, and governance in an effort to ensure their IT systems that collect, manage, and secure data are effective for the group. The informatics specialist is responsible for defining progress toward defined goals as well as for identifying and testing solutions with data. The solutions do not always involve developing an application or updating a computer system, but the outcomes are generally measured and monitored with data.
Informatics manager responsibilities include facilitating access to data, confirming the collected data is accurate, and ensuring all the information is in compliance with current federal and state guidelines. They ensure the systems are working and available when needed, whether is it is for a small medical practice or an entire hospital.
Informatics director promotes informatics systems within an organization, making sure systems work for the organization, monitoring feedback, and staying up to date with technological advances and the best tools available for the organization’s goals. This role is often one of the most lucrative jobs in the field, especially if you already have IT or hospital administration experience.
Chief medical information officer (CMIO) duties may vary but most are practicing physicians or IT professionals with specialized training, and their responsibilities will reflect their dual areas of expertise. In general, they evaluate an organization’s IT systems, oversee the health informatics platform, design and apply electronic medical records/electronic health records (EMR/EHR) software and applications, train physicians and other medical professionals in the systems, applications, including computerized physician order entry (CPOE), collect and analyze medical and health data, leverage medical and health data to improve the quality of services and daily operations. Depending on the areas of expertise and training, CMIOs may also conduct data analytics for research purposes and report their findings to hospital administrators, other executives, government agencies, or academic institutions.
Director of clinical informatics promotes the understanding, interoperability, and application of information technology in healthcare organizations. Their responsibilities may include overseeing the design of IT systems to facilitate health information collection, management, and analysis. The type of data this role collects and analyzing may include patient symptoms, disease diagnosis, records of procedures, and outcomes.
Clinical Data Analyst apply knowledge of healthcare and database management to analyze clinical data, perform data validation, data reconciliation, and identify and report trends. These healthcare information professionals ensure that processes and protocols are followed, thereby improving the quality and efficiency of care. They are at the center of data management for an organization, involved in planning and execution through to completion of a clinical study phase.
Medical IT consultant must be familiar with relevant patient safety and privacy practices, government regulations, and industry standards. A broad role, they generally advise healthcare organizations on the use of technology in maintaining patient records, privacy and security, health care financial systems, and the use of technology in medical practices. The majority of healthcare IT consultants work full-time and many are able to telecommute, although most need to travel to clients’ locations to be able to evaluate hardware needs and provide training on new systems or upgrades.
Health Informatics Degree Options
Most health informatics roles require a minimum of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, mostly due to the fact the field requires a high level of technical and business skills. Basic knowledge and the ability to use medical coding, medical billing, and operational aspects of a medical database will increase the likelihood for advancement.
In addition, all roles within health informatics will need advanced knowledge of the established regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as well as the current security and compliance provisions for the healthcare sector.
There are several options for higher education in HI, including:
Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics
Bachelor of Information Technology
Bachelor of Science Business—Information Technology Management
Master of Science in Health Informatics
Master of Health Informatics
Master of Nursing Informatics
Health Informatics Pay Scale and Job Outlook
Though the lowest 10% of earners in health informatics often earn around $29,680 (a number which might reflect health informatics starting salaries in some cases), the BLS reports that salaries can exceed $98,490, depending on experiences and level of education.
As in most industries, individuals with an associate’s degree are likely to earn less than those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees or a Ph.D. The BLS estimates that health information technologist employment is projected to grow 17% percent through 2031, which is higher than average for all occupations.
With the global emergence of COVID-19, governmental organizations such as the Division of Health Informatics and Surveillance (DHIS) have a critical need to have high-quality data to inform and guide public health decisions and actions.
HI professionals may also work in hospitals, medical clinics, doctor’s offices, health informatics firms, research laboratories, computer or information security firms, medical technology firms, public health organizations, medical software companies, and nursing care facilities.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for health informatics professionals reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.