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Health Informatics: Melding Technology and Health Care

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Health Informatics Programs and Career Options

Health informatics is an interdisciplinary field that integrates health care information with technology to improve health care delivery. Health informatics practitioners must understand information technology, computers, human behavior, organizational sciences, and health processes and systems. Health informatics is distinctly different from health information management, although there may be some overlap in job responsibilities and training.

Health informatics is the partnership between health care and technology. Between 2010 and 2020, health care occupations are expected to increase by 29 percent and computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow by 22 percent, adding more than four million new jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

Health care professionals, from nurses and physicians to health care managers, may advance their careers by developing information technology (IT) skills in a health informatics education program. Similarly, IT professionals who want to move into health care, health informatics professionals who wish to improve their skills and knowledge, and anyone who wants to combine IT with health care and business may find a health informatics program helpful.

Education Programs and Coursework

Health informatics programs, available on campus and online, generally award students either a certificate or an associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree, depending on the depth, breadth, and duration of the program. At some medical informatics schools, certificates can be credited toward completion of an associate degree. Graduate certificate programs normally require at least a bachelor's degree for admissions. Some programs allow the certificate to be credited toward completion of a master's degree program.

As an interdisciplinary field, health informatics coursework often comes from different departments within a school, including business, computer science and information technology, health sciences, applied sciences and nursing. Specific coursework depends on the level of the degree or certificate being sought and any specializations, but can include:

  • Undergraduate core education in speech and communication, humanities, math and science, statistics and computer literacy
  • Health care fundamentals including anatomy, physiology, principles of disease, medical terminology, and legal and ethical concepts
  • Health informatics fundamentals including statistics, health delivery and electronic record systems
  • Information technology fundamentals including databases, systems analysis and design, and information security
  • Business fundamentals including organizational behavior, operations, quality and project management
  • Doctoral programs can also include clinical research methods, applied statistical methods and biostatistics

Depending on the specific program, many health informatics schools recommend, and some require, internships or clinical practice.

Certification and Licensure

Certification and licensure are not required specifically for health informatics professionals but many employers see voluntary certification as demonstrating mastery of a specific body of knowledge. Some health care professionals who take on the role of health informatics specialist, however, may need to be licensed or certified in their other job capacity. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers different certifications such as Registered Health Information Technician or Certified Health Data Analyst. Furthermore, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) offers a Certified Professional in Healthcare Information & Management Systems (CPHIMS) designation.

Work Environment and Responsibilities

The list of jobs in the health informatics field is extensive and includes chief medical information officer, health information administrator, and health informatics consultants. Other health informatics professionals can include health information technicians, health data analysts, health care privacy/security specialists, or clinical documentation improvement specialists. Health informatics professionals work in hospitals, physician offices, and other medical facilities. Other potential work environments include federal, state and local health agencies and policy organizations, consulting firms, insurance companies, and research facilities.

Regardless of the specific career, the primary responsibility of health informatics professionals is using computer technology to advance or improve health care delivery.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

"Health care informatics jobs now constitute the eighth largest share of health care occupation postings," wrote Jobs for the Future in its web publication "A Growing Jobs Sector: Health Informatics." Between 2007 and 2011, job listings growth for all jobs was six percent, while for health care jobs, the growth in job listings was nine percent and for health informatics jobs, 36 percent (jff.org).

Because of the technology-based nature of informatics, the following May 2012 careers and salaries have been included even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not currently define them as health informatics careers (bls.gov/oes, 2013):

  • Computer and information systems manager: $129,130
  • Software systems developer: $102,550
  • Medical and health service manager: $98,460
  • Information security analyst: $89,290
  • Database and systems administrator: $80,910
  • Medical records and health information technician: $36,770

All medical facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds will eventually be required to comply with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which calls for a transition to electronic health record technology. With medical facilities scrambling to comply, this might be a good time to look at health informatics careers.

Sources:

American Health Informatics Management Association: Types of Credentials
American Health Informatics Management Association: Why Get Certified
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition: Projections Overview
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition: Medical records and health information technicians
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition: Medical and health service managers
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
California Department of Health Care Services: Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Electronic Health Record Incentive Program
Healthcare Information Management Systems Society: Certified Professional in Healthcare Information & Management Systems
Jobs for the Future: A Growing Jobs Sector: Health Informatics
Oregon Institute of Technology: What is the difference between health informatics and health information management
St. Petersburg College: Frequently Asked Questions
University of Wisconsin:Milwaukee: Doctoral Program in Biomedical and Health Informatics
University of Michigan: Health Informatics Careers
Western Governors University: BS in Health Informatics


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