What is Health Informatics?

Health informatics refers to the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of healthcare information to ensure optimal collaboration between patients and their healthcare providers. It is a vital part of healthcare reform, representing an evolving specialization that links healthcare, communications, and information technology (IT) to improve the quality and safety of patient care. In the United States National Library of Medicine’s words, health informatics is “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption, and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management, and planning.”

The two goals of moving to such a robust platform are to boost healthcare quality and lower healthcare costs. These two seemingly opposing forces can work together provided the right formulas are applied. Notably, healthcare is one of the largest segments of the U.S. economy, driving 20 percent of the GDP. It is also one of the biggest sectors to accept digital information technology widely.

The adoption of healthcare informatics that blends technology with practical concepts has largely been embraced in the industry. Health informatics as a field of study provides the promise of a robust health data infrastructure with many benefits. Those benefits include the ability to offer faster, more interoperable, and accessible patient records; a reduction in errors; a reduction in redundant testing; and the production of more complete and accurate healthcare records.

At the core of successful health informatics is the ability of providers and organizations to distinguish between large amounts of data and meaningful data and to integrate data seamlessly into an organization, points out AHIMA, which is the real challenge of healthcare organizations today. These dilemmas can interrupt daily practices and workflow, yet new technology and treatment modalities are changing at break-neck speed.

Formerly, healthcare was dominated by paper-based systems. Today, those systems are largely obsolete with severely limited functionality. Essentially, healthcare has got the data-capturing part down pat; the challenge comes in managing that large volume of data and streamlining it where it can be most beneficial, which is why the need for a strong health informatics system is critical.

The benefits of having a well-functioning health informatics system include:

  • Improved ability to self-manage illness
  • Less trial and error
  • Reduced costs
  • Well-maintained and accessible electronic patient records

The evolution of healthcare informatics has occurred rapidly over the last few years as a result of decades of IT development. The bottom line is that information technology and health informatics are becoming critical components of the modern concept of public health and national healthcare policies.

This is why health informatics specialists will be highly sought after as healthcare facilities bring on new systems, upgrade their current databases, and strive to achieve meaningful and shareable data.

Benefits of Studying Health Informatics

Health informatics professionals are increasingly in-demand as the healthcare systems in the country undergo a major transformation. Trained professionals may work in consulting roles, for vendors, or as employees of a healthcare facility or provider. For those who are already in the healthcare field (e.g., nursing), leadership positions afforded by a degree in health informatics can give them an opportunity to be a part of this rapidly evolving field.

The many benefits of studying health informatics, include:

  • Preparation for work with technology: This field utilizes technology to streamline the flow of medical records and reports that doctors, insurance companies, and pharmacies use on a daily basis. A master’s degree can also give graduates the flexibility to keep their existing job while preparing for additional career advancement.
  • Strong networking opportunities: This course of study provides students with best-practice skills within an interactive learning environment, getting them in touch with the professionals they will be working within the real world.
  • Easier job search: Because specialists in this field are in such high-demand, new graduates can sometimes get jobs even before they earn their degrees.
  • More extensive range of career paths: These can include clinical informatics, pharmacy or nutrition informatics, informatics analysis, and nurse informatics, among many others.
  • Higher salary: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the average for all occupations (7 percent), and half a million new jobs are expected to be added. Computer and information research specialists, for example, make a median pay of $111,000 with a master’s degree, while clinical informatics directors (a type of medical and health services manager) have a median annual salary of $98,350.
  • Real world applications: Students use learning modules, case-study scenarios, video tutorials and other instructional tools for hands-on experience they can apply in the workforce. Students can choose specialties in software development, quality assurance, training, general database management, and much more.

Types of Degrees

There are several types of degrees within health informatics, with potential career progression ranging from associate’s degrees to advanced degrees.

Associate’s Degree

  • Registered health information technician (RHIT)
  • Medical transcriptionist
  • Data entry specialist

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Registered health information administrator
  • Informatics nurse specialist
  • System data analyst

Advanced Degree

  • Clinical informatics coordinator
  • Certified health data analyst (CHDA)
  • Epidemiologist
  • Statistician
  • Informaticist

Types of Health Informatics Coursework and Specializations

Health informatics courses combine information technology and healthcare. Not surprisingly, having an established background in one or the other will prove beneficial to students. One can expect to take classes in statistics, biostatistics, medical terminology, computer science, information technology, software development, systems design, and database management.

Other possible classes include informational exchange and information security. Because learning to analyze data is an important part of this career, courses in finance and accounting provide students with an understanding of financial budgets and organizational proposals. Programs contain a blend of lecture and reading components as well as mentored projects and possible group work.

Specialties within the health informatics field can include project management, healthcare policy, healthcare information systems, health service finances, and data analysis. Qualified graduates may seek positions in the medical and health informatics specialist field as health information techs and managers. Students can get even more specialized with careers as a systems engineer, risk management professional, compliance officer, clinical training manager, or researcher. If seeking executive and upper-level management positions, graduates may seek positions as directors for business systems, chief privacy officer, chief technology officer (CTO) or financial manager.

Farheen Gani
Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani has written many how-to career, online program, and scholarship guides related to master of healthcare administration degrees since 2018. Some guides she has written include online healthcare management programs, master's in regulatory science programs, and health administration scholarships. She writes about healthcare, technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).